By NICK GRABBE, Staff Writer
April 2, 2010
AMHERST – Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk can choose an outsider or an insider as the next principal of the Regional Middle School.
She will announce her decision Tuesday, she said. On Thursday night, as 50 parents sized up the two finalists, Geryk sat in the back of the room, listening and interacting with children.
Karsten Schlenter, 47, has been a middle school principal in Michigan for nine years, while Michael Hayes, 35, has been a math teacher and administrator at the middle school for over 12 years. The third finalist, Paul Goodhind, withdrew on Wednesday.
“I believe as an outsider I can bring some good ideas to this community, not only from Michigan, but from growing up in a different country,” said Schlenter, a native of Germany. “With an outside perspective, I can say, 'Have you ever thought about doing it this way?' and think outside the box.”
Hayes said that “being an insider creates a lot of value and a lot of challenges. The value is I know the school very well. I know the staff, students and community. My wife went to school here.” He said that if he's the new principal, “on the first day, we're going to take off.”
Schlenter's school in suburban Saginaw has seen major cutbacks. It has much bigger class sizes than Amherst and no assistant principal, and Schlenter said he expects to be laid off soon. “I need a job,” he said.
He said he arrives at the school at 6 a.m. every morning to deal with administrative responsibilities, so he can spend more time later in classrooms, mentoring teachers and prodding them to reflect on what techniques work best.
Asked what makes a good teacher and principal, Schlenter said, “You need to be able to relate to kids and build trust. They don't care about your subject knowledge until they know you care about them.” Likewise, he said he wouldn't “come here and change everything” but would first work to build trust with staff, students and community.
He said he likes working in a middle school, where students are at “a crucial age and like to explore and take chances. High schoolers are more set in their ways, while middle school educators can have some influence.”
Schlenter said he has no ambition to be a superintendent. “If I was hired here, I would be here to stay,” he said, adding that his wife and daughters would join him.
“When you take a position like this, it isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle, and your family has to be on board,” he said.
Asked to define “rigor,” Schlenter said, “You want kids to enjoy education, to experiment and apply knowledge. To me, that is rigor, because it makes it so much more meaningful.”
Hayes grew up in California and started in the Amherst schools as a paraprofessional before becoming a teacher.
“The importance was not the math I was teaching, but trying to help 100 students understand something important,” he said. “The challenge is making it work for all those learners. It's about as hard a job as you could do.”
A parent challenged Hayes's insider status, asking about his association with a math curriculum that is going to be under review. “I'm not ever stuck in one model,” he responded. “I believe in continuous improvement.”
Another parent asked if increased interest in private and charter schools means the middle school needs to change. Hayes responded that although parents at open houses speak positively about the school, “I'm not someone who likes to sit around and do the same thing over and over.”
Hayes said he has learned a lot from consultant Barry Beers, who delivered a critical report about the middle school last month. (Schlenter was not familiar with Beers' report.) Beers told Hayes he wrote to Geryk saying that as principal he could carry out the report's recommendations, he said.
“I know this staff and I know how to bring them forward, and they will follow me,” Hayes said.
Asked about bullying, he said that on Monday, English teachers at the middle school will do a lesson on misuse of the words “gay,” “retarded” and “sped.” “At the end of the lesson, we'll say, 'Now you know, so we're going to call you on it,” he said.
Asked about his commitment to stay on the job, Hayes said he just bought a house in Pelham and wants to be principal at the middle school when his young daughter is there.
“In six years, if I'm not here, it's because I wasn't doing a good job,” he said.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.