As the academic year nears with new school configurations, two of Schenectady’s three middle schools are without permanent principals, and they may not be filled until Oct. 1.
Former Mont Pleasant Middle School Principal Kiante Jones left earlier this summer for an assistant principal position at a middle school in Newburgh, and the district was already working on finding a new principal for Central Park Middle School.
Jones, who served as principal for the past two years and was an assistant principal for one year, said this week he was proud of the work he had done in Schenectady, but that the Newburgh position was the right move for him and his family as his wife starts a doctoral program in New York City.
He highlighted the school’s efforts to increase parent engagement, the addition of a peer mediation specialist and mental health counselor, and the extension of after-school activities as his biggest accomplishments while at the school. Mont Pleasant also improved its proficiency on English Language Arts tests by 3 percentage points while Jones served as principal, though the school’s proficiency rate of 14 percent remains far below the state average.
“Working with the staff, we transformed the culture and climate of the building,” Jones said.
Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said Jones’ calm demeanor helped to ease tension with students. He also said Jones served as a role model to the school’s diverse student body.
“He is somebody that our kids of color can look to and see as a role model,” Spring said of Jones. “He’s got an extraordinarily calm demeanor. It didn’t matter what was happening, he responded in the same way.”
Meanwhile, district officials are evaluating and beginning to interview candidates to fill the principal positions at Mont Pleasant and Central Park. Spring said he could not guarantee that the positions would be filled in time for the first day of school but that he expected they would be by Oct. 1.
Jeffrey Bennett, who was hired as an assistant principal at Mont Pleasant during the past school year, was appointed acting principal by the Schenectady school board last month.
At Central Park, principal duties are being shared by an assistant principal there and an administrator tasked with leading the logistics of the district’s reorganization.
“It’s certainly something we are planning around and trying to put in additional supports in those places,” Spring said of the principal vacancies.
Regardless of when they arrive in their respective front offices, the new leaders will be coming into a changing middle school landscape across the district.
Plenty of changes
Beginning next month, the district will have a trio of grades six-through-eight middle schools — rather than the previous setup of a large seventh and eighth grade Mont Pleasant Middle School and a handful of elementary schools that included middle school grades as well.
The changes mean that the student body at Mont Pleasant will change drastically as well as the school welcomes sixth-graders to what was once a second high school. About two-thirds of school’s students will be new to the building, Spring said.
District and school leaders, including Jones, have been working on what the middle school program will look like moving forward, identifying what should be offered at all of the middle schools and where the schools might have the opportunity to set their own path. Spring said it’s a challenge for new leaders to come into a system designed by others but that the moment of change also presents opportunities for a new principal to leave a mark.
“There will be a lot of things that will look, sound and feel different and that’s not about a change in principal,” Spring said. “This is an opportunity for someone to step in when change is happening, it’s an opportunity to have a tremendous amount of influence and make a lot of change happen.”