In the past three years, PHS has seen a change in its administrative team every year. Seniors graduating this year have not had the same high school principal for their duration at the school.
Superintendent Timothy Yeomans describes why some principals would decide to leave the school that they are working at.
“Principal decisions are ultimately recommended by me to the board and it is one of those situations where most people are always very surprised a principal would have any goals or wants or changes in their life or anything else that would make them want to be different or leave a school,” Yeomans said.
Yeomans explains his thought process behind why he selected the current principal Dave Sunich.
“The role of a principal in high school, is an extremely challenging [role] to fill because it is a very, very busy job and it has a lot of responsibility on that. We were very excited about the fact that Mr. Sunich, who was a very successful principal at other levels, was not only interested but excited and enthusiastic about having that job,” Yeomans said.
With regards to the consistency of change within the administration this last couple of years, Yeomans provides insight into the challenges that a new principal may face when they take over.
“We do not ever hire anybody thinking, especially when you give someone the title of principal, that it would only last a year. So that is not something that happens. What I will say is that it is always a challenge when the principal changes three times in three years. It just is. It is very important that as a system we are very mindful of not only the school, that always comes first [but] we have to be mindful [that] Mr. Smith did a great job when he was at PHS and he was there for a number of years and did a fantastic job of that,” Yeomans said.
Sunich addresses how he approached meeting his goals of building relationships with the school community and fitting into his role in the school.
“Well, I did a lot of listening. I tried to meet with as many people as I possibly could before the year started, just trying to be visible and approachable and attend a lot of events. You know, immerse myself in as many different activities and experiences as I could. I think it [went] pretty well. I have a pretty good sense of what this school and community value and have some ideas of things that I see that we need to work on. Sometimes you get bogged down with the day-to-day stuff and lose sight of your big goals so all in all I think I did a pretty good job of that,” Sunich said.
Sunich describes his goals for the coming years.
“One of [the things I would like to improve] is just helping our school, staff and community to recognize how the world is changing and we might need to change with it and prepare our kids for it. We have some very strong traditions and some pride that have gone on for years and some of them are great and some of the things might be holding us back from really becoming the greatest high school that we can be,” Sunich said.
Yeomans further explains the importance of a principal building trust and relationships with the staff of the school.
“It is just like coming to a new school and making new friends. It takes time to build the trust. There are always pieces that we are, as an organization, as a district, need to improve upon. There are things that the school itself might need to improve upon,” Yeomans said. “PHS is such a strong school but a new principal who comes in is working with people who might have been at that school for 30-plus years so that [principal] needs to build that relationship and that trust. Our goal always is continuity. We do not move people just to move them. We move them because there is a genuine need for that situation; we want those transitions to go as smoothly as possible.”
In addition to adapting to a new school, a new administration may end up having to make alternations to existing policy. Some people might view the current attendance policy as lenient, however Sunich states that the policy is focused on alternative ways to discipline.
“Our attendance policy is that kids are expected to come to school every day and it is a closed campus, so kids are not to leave the campus without permission. One of the challenges of addressing kids that do not come is that we cannot really discipline them. There are certain levels of discipline that we can [use] but it does not really make sense to suspend someone from school for not coming to school. So that is probably where one of the biggest shifts is coming [from]. We are looking at alternatives to address the attendance issue,” Sunich said. “So really it is more [about] digging down deeper and trying to identify why the kid [is] not coming to school; are there other factors that are preventing it or maybe making it hard for them or making them not want to be here. [We are trying] to address those things versus the symptom, which is that the kid is not coming to school. The most important thing is to help them recognize that they are missing out on important learning.”
Sunich describes the difficulty of addressing all of the cases of attendance issues.
“I think the hardest part is that there is so many kids and it is so widespread it is almost impossible to catch them all. If we wanted to meet with every kid, that is all we would do, is meet with kids about their attendance. There are so many other aspects of the job that we just cannot do that,” Sunich said. “The things that do work well though are that when we get a kid with a real attendance crisis, they are in significant danger of not being successful because of their attendance then we can meet with that kid and their parents and maybe develop a contract. [We can] try to identify what some of the underlying issues are that is creating attendance challenges and we can address some of those things which tends to improve their attendance.”
Sunich describes the thoughts behind the new focus of the disciplinary policy.
“The thoughts behind it are that behavior and expectations for how we interact with one another really need to be taught just like a subject area, just like how we would teach a math lesson or an English lesson. When a student makes a bad choice or does something that is against the rules we really want to make it into a learning experience by having them engage in some reflection. Having them work through how they are going to repair the situation versus punishment. Punishment in most situations does not work by itself there needs to be some learning engagement tied to it,” Sunich said.
Sunich explains the diverse reactions of the teachers in response to recent policy changes.
“It has been a mixed review. It has been a change for some people, who have been used to more of an authoritarian type approach to discipline. They feel as though there should be little tolerance. It is more about a belief system how student’s behavior is going to change. So there is different beliefs about what is effective,” Sunich said.