Haldane Begins Search for New Principal

District has received more than 50 applications

By Michael Turton

The process of selecting a successor to Haldane High School Principal Brian Alm is underway. Alm, who has held the position for nine years, will leave at the end of the school year to become director of secondary teaching and learning for the Ossining School District.

To kick off the search, Haldane Central School District Superintendent Diana Bowers has met with faculty and student focus groups and will meet with a parent group on April 4. The district has received more than 50 applications, she said, and should have three or four finalists by mid-April to be interviewed by the search committee and meet with the board of education.

Students and teachers weigh in

The high school students who met with Superintendent Bowers listed no fewer than 32 traits they would like to see in a new principal, from strict anti-drug policies to support for the visual arts to embracing the importance of educational experiences beyond the school walls. Their most common wish, they said, was to be recognized as individuals with different needs, interests and potential paths.

Superintendent Diana Bowers (photo by M. Turton) 

Superintendent Diana Bowers (photo by M. Turton)

Teachers also had quite a bit to say. Prior experience working as a high school teacher, especially in a small district, was high on their list, along with transparency, strong communications skills, a collaborative approach and the ability to manage all the school’s needs strategically.

Sounding much like their students, they expressed hope that the new principal will get to know and understand all staff and their strengths while fostering their continued growth as educators. They also indicated a desire for a leader who would be a student advocate, but who will also be a sound disciplinarian.

Different hats

The need for the new principal to be able to work in a small district is clearly a priority. “The needs and expectations are different,” Bowers said. “We all wear many hats that would be separate positions in larger districts. It doesn’t discount candidates from larger districts, but they need to be willing to take on the additional responsibilities.”

She also stressed that Alm’s replacement will need to “understand the shift in pedagogical practices that we are making [as] delineated in our Strategic Plan — including the development of 21st-century skills.”

School Board President Jennifer Daly supports Bowers’ emphasis on the strategic plan. “Haldane has been on a clear educational path the past two years,” she said, including project-based learning and technology initiatives. “We need someone who is forward-thinking, creative, and passionate about the evolution of education.”

Daly emphasized the need for the principal to work beyond the high school, taking into account the entire student body, faculty and staff in making decisions, as well as the residents of Cold Spring. “Haldane is the center of our community in many ways and our principal needs to embrace that and be able to bring the larger community together,” she said.

Many paths to success

Maeve Eng-Wong heads the joint Haldane-Garrison PTAs’ Learning Differences Committee. “Great principals value inclusive learning environments and both the academic and personal development of each child,” she wrote in an email. The new principal needs to be “someone whose leadership clearly indicates that both emotional and academic intelligence are held with equal regard at our school [and] someone who does not value one pathway to success over another, but who sees the potential for success in every student.”

Outgoing Haldane High School Principal Brian Alm speaks with a group of students. (Photo by M. Turton)

Outgoing Haldane High School Principal Brian Alm speaks with a group of students. (Photo by M. Turton)

Peter Sanders, a filmmaker who is a trustee on the board of the Haldane School Foundation, said: “Schools are as good as their teachers and teachers can only excel when the principal is at once an inspired leader, the good listener, a superb educator and a person capable of meeting the challenges of the digital age in the classroom.”

Fellow trustee Craig Roffman added: “Haldane’s new principal should support the high school’s forward-looking agenda, including high academic achievement and college readiness, as well as a continued commitment to Haldane’s welcoming spirit and community, the visual and performing arts and athletics.” He added that he believes the new principal must “have a realistic outlook on standardized testing, is supportive of our teachers and is prepared to resist linking scores to teacher evaluations.”

Long-term ties

Dave McCarthy, the general manager of Tightrope Interactive in Cold Spring, doesn’t have children attending Haldane High School yet, but he hopes the new principal will make a commitment to the school.

“A former school board member recently told me that Haldane is usually a stepping stone to something bigger or a last stop in a career,” he said. “Whoever we select, I hope we can count on them staying for a nice stretch. This type of loss is tough,” and “not something we want to go through every three to four years.” McCarthy praised Alm for expanding computer programming literacy at Haldane. “I really appreciated that forward thinking and hope that the next principal will also have a grasp on the tools our children will need to compete for the best jobs 10 or 15 years from now.”

Sandy McKelvey, executive director of the Hudson Valley Farm To School Program and a former member of Haldane’s Strategic Planning Committee, echoed McCarthy’s real-world emphasis, especially the wealth of human resources available locally. “We have theater professionals, college professors, NASA scientists, musicians, writers, chefs, teachers, farmers, computer and technology professionals, small business owners” who live in the school district, she noted. “I would like to see the next principal use these resources to the fullest and involve the community as much as possible.”

Three key ingredients

Julisa Tomizawa, president of the Haldane PTA, expressed hope that whoever is chosen will be an experienced administratorwho will help Haldane continue to earn the recognition of our nation’s top colleges and universities.” She commented that the PTA is looking forward to the selection process.

“On the one hand, we regret having to say goodbye to Brian,” she said. “He’s a friend and a caring principal. But on the other, it’s an exciting time to find someone who can build on the district’s commitment to crafting modern classrooms, building teachers’ capacity to meet the needs of all learning in this more contemporary learning environment.”

The extensive list of strengths being sought in a single candidate is optimistic, to put it mildly. Shannon Keegan, who heads the Haldane School Foundation, boiled the recipe down to three ingredients that would certainly satisfy the vast majority in the Haldane family: “The perfect candidate will combine the expertise needed to achieve the highest academic standards, the energy to keep pace with the innovations occurring at Haldane, and the personality to build strong relationships with students, teachers and parents in this tight-knit community.”

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