Brian Alm accepts position in Ossining
By Michael Turton
Principal Brian Alm is leaving Haldane High School at the end of the school year to become director of secondary teaching and learning for the Ossining School District. Haldane Superintendent Diana Bowers announced Alm’s resignation in a letter to the community on March 8. He has been principal for nine years.
“Everybody needs to grow,” Alm told The Paper. “This is a really good opportunity for me, a very good match with my professional interests. There are a lot of innovations happening there and a fluid, innovative environment is where I belong.”
Educators often move on to larger school districts after gaining experience in smaller schools. Haldane tried to keep Alm and other senior administrators last summer when, in July, Bowers introduced a reorganization plan, part of which included making Alm assistant superintendent, a new position.
The move was intended to help the district implement its strategic plan, but it was also a pre-emptive strike aimed at keeping Haldane’s leadership team intact. However, the community balked. Many questioned the need for an assistant superintendent even though the proposed changes were budget-neutral. The fact that reorganization was proposed mid- summer and on a fast track also raised concerns. In the end, school board trustees, including those who initially supported the idea, voted unanimously not to create the position.
The process to choose Alm’s replacement has already begun. Bowers met with students and teachers this week and will soon sit down with parent focus groups to discuss the characteristics they and the community feel candidates should possess. Alm’s successor will likely be selected by mid- to late-May, and his or her first day on the job will be July 1. Anyone interested in being part of a focus group or the interview committee should email Linda Dearborn at [email protected]
The next step
Bowers told The Paper that, after nine years, she knew Alms was ready for change. “You get to a point in your career when you’re ready for the next step,” she said. “The question was, [would] the next step be possible here or was it going to be somewhere else?” Asked why she thought her proposal for an assistant superintendent position has been rejected, she said, “I’m not sure what it was, but [the new position] was not something that this community felt comfortable with.”
Bowers said that, ironically, Haldane may be losing Alm in part because it trains its staff well. “One of the things we’ve been dedicating ourselves to in the last couple years is training our people to be the best and the brightest,” Bowers said, and that is a double-edged sword. “You have people who are so well-trained that other [districts] will invite them in.”
Alm was quick to share credit with Haldane High School students, faculty and parents when asked about his accomplishments. “We’ve raised rigor, and equitable access to rigor simultaneously, while raising achievement overall,” he said. “We’ve raised college and career readiness, but not in a way that is measured by achievement data. Our graduates can think, create, adapt, collaborate, and reflect.”
Alm said he is most proud of “the civil discourse that our students engage in every day. There is a free exchange of ideas, true collaboration and mutual respect. Our students very often don’t agree, but they know how to engage in healthy conflict.”
Longevity is crucial
Bowers said she feels replacing Alm with someone who is talented and willing to stay for a while is crucial. “Research shows that one of the [things] that makes a high school successful is the longevity and tenure of the principal,” she said. Principals typically stay at a school for five to seven years, according to Bowers.
Filling Alm’s shoes will be a challenge. Bowers describes him as a leader who asks for and respects teachers opinions. “And when you talk to students, they all feel comfortable there — and that doesn’t always happen.” She said Alm’s relationships beyond the school are also part of his strength. “He has a real positive energy and a really strong link with the community.”
School Board President Jennifer Daly also reflected on the loss of Alm and what it will take to replace him. “The reorganization was intended to improve the administration team and to provide opportunities for upward mobility that don’t currently exist; to give them another reason to stay,” she said. “Brian was ready for the role of assistant superintendent but the community wasn’t on-board.”
A natural leader
Daly lamented the “revolving door” at Haldane, with higher salaries and opportunities to advance elsewhere making the challenge of keeping quality staff even greater. “Brian needed more and new challenges,” she said. “Nine years is a long time to stay” at a smaller school such as Haldane.
Alm’s current salary is $146,296. Officials with the Ossining School District declined to provide salary information, pending Alm’s appointment next week.
Daly spoke highly of Alm’s contributions. “He is a natural leader. His vibrancy is infectious. You smile when you meet him,” she said. “He raised the bar on multiple levels — across the board,” something that she said is reflected in Haldane’s 100 percent graduation rate and the caliber of colleges graduates attend.
Alm’s successor must possess more than strong academic qualifications, in Daly’s view. “We need someone who is interested in and passionate about community building,” she said, adding that being Haldane’s principal is not an office job. “We need someone really energetically involved with our community — students, staff and parents. Brian really brought everybody together, as a community.”
While the search will be a challenge, Daly is undaunted. “I always like change,” she said. “Change is good.”
Former school board president Joe Curto agreed that change can be positive. “These positions are staffed by real people and change happens; this should be looked upon as an opportunity, not a doomsday scenario,” he said. “Haldane High School is a great place to be the principal; we will attract quality and talent — as long as we stay genuine in who we are.”
Alm gets a solid report card from Curto. “Brian’s smart, cares about this school and always pushed people to think out of the box,” he said, adding that improvements in college and career readiness skills were a result of Alm’s efforts “before it became a hot topic in education circles.” He describes Alm as “creative in his thinking, consistent in his decision making — someone who some day will be a great superintendent. We will miss him.”
The Paper contacted two recent Haldane graduates for their views on Alm’s tenure. Both attend college at SUNY Geneseo. “He shaped the overall tone of the high school environment to be positive and inclusive,” Shauna Ricketts wrote in an email. “Mr. Alm encouraged student deliberation, creativity and growth by not only accepting ideas for how to better Haldane but by urging students to exercise citizenship in their local community on a daily basis.”
She added that Alm is “fueled by his passion for the students and his desire to increase global awareness within the student body.”
Clayton Smith said Alm made him feel at ease but also pushed his boundaries. When Smith arrived as a new student at Haldane, “Mr. Alm made sure I felt as comfortable as possible … and went out of his way to make my family feel welcome,” he said. “He cares about making Haldane a better place … by holding students to high standards and pushing them to be better than they think they can be.”