The new principal at Mont Pleasant Middle School is already getting out the word she is not a pushover.
Peg Normandin, the sixth principal at the school in 16 months, said nothing will make her leave before the end of the school year. She cited her long experience as a principal at Schenectady High School as she sought to reassure parents they can count on her to stay.
“I’ve been at the high school with 2,500 students. I’ve been there for 13 years,” she said.
Mont Pleasant has about 750 students, a number school officials have suggested is simply too many for any principal to manage. The school year has been punctuated with fights, near-riots in the street and most recently a “game” in which boys tried to touch girls inappropriately. But what some parents said worried them most was that administrators seemed focused on punishing individual students, rather than trying to change the culture of the building.
A boy who grabbed a girl’s breast on what some students called “Grab Breasts Tuesdays” was given a day of suspension, for example, but officials did not hold schoolwide assemblies on sexual assault.
It wasn’t until after one girl detailed that game at a Board of Education meeting that school officials began meeting with groups of students about the issue. The day after the girl went public — months after the incidents began — teachers throughout the district received an email asking them to be on the lookout for similar games among their students.
But Normandin said she plans to be proactive when incidents occur.
“I prefer it, if we can do something preventively,” she said. “I don’t like to leave any stone unturned.”
She plans to hold mediation meetings between children who have a dispute, in an effort to head off fights. She also intends to enforce behavior rules strictly.
“My reputation at the high school is that I’m tough but I’m fair,” she said. “I’m also not one that’s going to cave in. I follow the Code of Conduct.”
She started at Mont Pleasant just last week, but already has reorganized the administration.
“With a building the size of Schenectady High School, we’ve thought through some things,” she said, and she brought those results to Mont Pleasant.
She assigned seventh-graders to one assistant principal and eighth-graders to the other. She is also adding administrative paraprofessionals to help them.
“I don’t know where I’d be without my administrative para at the high school,” she said, adding that the assistant principals need the help.
“They’re both very new to their roles,” she said — one has been working in the district for only six weeks.
She also moved their offices so they’re on separate sides of the building. That allows them to separate fighting students and put them in offices far from each other.
“Previously, a lot of that was flowing into the guidance office,” she said.
The principal’s office had also been in the guidance office. She moved it back out to the main office.
“I really think that needs to be the hub of the building,” she said.
Now she’s getting to know all 750 faces and introducing herself to them. Half of them will spend a lot more than one year with her: next year, she will be the freshman principal at the high school.
“So these eighth-graders have me for the next five years,” she said.
That also means the district will have to find another principal for Mont Pleasant next year. But Normandin said students can rely on her until then.
“I’m committed to Schenectady,” she said. “I’m committed to the success of the students.”