How 2 new principals are reinventing the beginning of the school year

Ashley Bowling, the new principal of Florence Middle School in Alabama, has revamped her building's "opening ceremonies" with an eye toward making her students more comfortable with technology. 

A pair of new principals are putting their fresh and more personalized spins on back-to-school for their staff and students.

Ashley Bowling, the new principal of Florence Middle School in Alabama, has revamped her building’s “opening ceremonies” with an eye toward making her students more comfortable with technology as they transition from elementary school. In the past, the main aspect of the event was to help students map out their schedules and routes between classes.

“At the middle school level, our use of technology drastically increases,” says Bowling, who previously served eight years as assistant principal of the school that is part of Florence City Schools in Northern Alabama. “We wanted to take the time at the opening of school to not only focus on schedules and students touring the campus but also how to navigate the many technology platforms we use.”

Her middle schoolers get their own Chromebooks after having used classroom sets in elementary. They also have to adapt to a new learning management system. And because safety is another element of the opening ceremonies, the school conducted all three required drills: fire, lockdown, and weather.

“When I think of the effect size of a principal, the responsibility of ensuring safety, teaching, and learning remains my constant top three focus areas. I have had to learn the power of delegation,” Bowling says of her new role. “I have also had to learn that I don’t have all the answers, but I believe in my staff, teachers, and students enough to know we together have all the answers.”

New principals: Getting to know you

Scott Wisniewski is meeting one-on-one with every member of his staff as he steps into his new role at Pompton Lakes High School in New Jersey, “I felt like it was a great opportunity to begin developing meaningful relationships with our staff while also gathering their perspective as to the issues that are present for staff,” notes Wisniewski, whose school is part of the Pompton Lakes Borough School District northwest of New York City. “This would give me insight that can help data-driven change directly from staff.”

More from DA: How (un)friendly is local press coverage of superintendents right now?

Before starting the job, he also made a point of developing a rapport with the retiring principal. “We sent his farewell and my introduction together which was a great opportunity to reinforce a smooth transition,” he says.

Wisniewski got the idea for the one-on-one meetings from John Griffith, a principal in Wyoming with whom he connected through his National Association of Secondary School Principals networks. He began meeting first with his leadership team to learn about school dynamics and the building’s strengths and challenges. “Each school is its own unique community so learning those dynamics will allow me to integrate myself within the community and understand what needs to happen to positively affect any change necessary for our staff and students benefit,” he adds.

As the school year gets underway, he intends to continue to earn as much as he can about his building and the community it serves. “My goal is to establish myself as an advocate and a source of support for growth within our staff and students,” he concludes. “My focus is to ingrain myself within the culture and understand what aspects of the school dynamics need further attention.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular