When school begins on Wednesday, Aug. 29, there will be some new faces in the principals’ offices of W-H schools.
With the retirement of former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner at the end of June, the selection of then-WHRHS Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak to succeed her, the hiring of then-Whitman Middle School Principal George Ferro to fill the vacant Assistant Superintendent position and the departure of two elementary school principals for new jobs, that means three new principals, and new assistant principals at WMS and Hanson’s Indian Head School.
Former Assistant Principal Michael Grable was appointed principal of the school in June. At South Shore Vocational Technical High, former Assistant Principal Mark Aubrey has been promoted to principal following the June retirement of Margaret Dutch.
The Whitman-Hanson Express is beginning a series of interviews this week with new school administrators, starting off with WHRHS Principal Dr. Christopher Jones.
He was born in Oregon and “grew older” in Meriden, Conn., where he graduated high school.
He first attended the University of New Haven on a football scholarship, before transferring to Bridgewater State College. He later earned his master’s degree from Salem State and his doctorate from Northeastern in history and education.
Jones took a different route to teaching. A former coppersmith and self-described history buff, Jones’ passion for U.S. history often found him camping at the Gettysburg National Military Park and guiding family members on a day-by-day retracing of the three-day battle. One of those talks, about the first day of battle — in which Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana soldiers of the Iron Brigade, known as the Black Hats for their unique headgear, helped halt a Union retreat — found a family member staring past him to a tour group that had stopped to listen as Jones spoke.
“You know, you should really teach because of your passion for it,” his relative said. After he thought about it, his career path changed.
He has taught at an alternative high school in Bridgewater, and a charter school in New Bedford, where he opened it’s high school division, then worked with the special education department and assistant principal at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, before most recently serving as principal at Seekonk High School. Jones, 47, and his wife Mary — who teaches seventh-grade English at West Bridgewater — have two sons; Thomas, 11, who is a wrestler and Scott, 9, a soccer player.
Jones is an “out-of-office” principal who schedules time to get out into the school classrooms for short stop-ins to see what students are doing. While he does give teachers feedback after such visits, he said he is not always there just to evaluate a teacher.
When the Express sat down with him in his new office at WHRHS, Jones was awaiting a new gray-blue paint job in his office to change up the “rather aggressive” yellow on the walls before putting his personal stamp on the décor.
Q: What drew you to a career in education?
A: “I chose a career in education because I wanted to make education a better experience for everybody involved — that’s teachers, students, parents — I went to high school and I remember thinking to myself that there’s got to be a better way. I didn’t feel challenged in high school. I didn’t feel incredibly engaged. … That forms a lot of my core beliefs about what education should be. … You can try to motivate students, you can try to motivate staff, but when it comes down to it, it’s got to be intrinsic — they’ve got to find something inside themselves that motivates themselves to buy in and be engaged.
“You can do engaging activities, but what happens when the activity is over? You have to create a culture and environment where people want to be. Educational jargon now is “student-centered” … yes, the end result is to have students benefit the most they possibly can, but your research shows that the biggest impact on student engagement, student motivation and student success is your classroom teacher.
“I’m more teacher-focused. I want to create a good culture and a good environment and climate for students and teachers, but I want my teachers to want to come to school. … I do that by creating a lighter atmosphere at school, having that relationship where … they [feel] they can come talk with me about issues they have, if they are struggling with something and they need to improve or they need support in another area, I go about supporting them in any area they need. We talk about life. While I expect teachers to come in and teach the best they can and to the best of their abilities, I understand that sometimes life gets in the way. … Much like I ask teachers to build relationships with students. Research shows students learn best when they have a relationship with the person that’s teaching them. Really, that’s true for all of us. … That’s why coaches are so successful. By the nature of what they’re doing they build a relationship with students.”