Published: Aug 30, 2011 06:04 PM
Modified: Aug 30, 2011 06:08 PM
Incoming St. Michael School Principal John Yelenic knew exactly what he was taking on: a $4 million building campaign put on hold at the end of 2010, a school almost at capacity and disappointed parents ready to see results.
The affable principal, who is fond of unusual neckties, has a degree in secondary education and has taught and served as principal, superintendent, online educator for second-career teachers and motivational speaker.
Yelenic, wearing a tie patterned with light bulbs, says there is a bit of the phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes feelabout the start of this school year.
The new playground installed over the summer serves as a symbol of hope, says Yelenic, a way of saying the school is moving forward.
The ambitious project was accomplished thanks to generous contributions from parents.
He is proud to be at the helm, each day wearing another of his 278 ties.Q:
This past year was a tough one for St. Michael School. When you were hired in April, what were your goals?A:
I had to wrap up work at my old job and only officially started at St. Michael School on July 1, but starting in April, I hit the ground running. We had to search for and hire nine new teachers, and we knew that we needed to keep moving forward.
As administrators, we knew we needed to re-evaluate what worked and what didn't.Q:
Was building the new playground part of the mending process?A:
Yes. We wanted to take part of the dream [of building two new school buildings] and grow it into a visual symbol.
The building campaign is not over; it is on hold. The new playground shows that we are still moving forward. ...
I think that the essence of learning is socialization, at both the elementary and middle school levels. With the new equipment, there is so much for everyone to do.
We will also build a memorial garden for one of our parents who passed away. They were instrumental in raising the funds to build the playground, and we want a place to honor them.
Of course, we need new classroom space. I would love to see three classes of every grade level.Q:
School has only been in session for about two weeks, but what are some of your plans involving students?A:
When I talk to the eighth-graders about which programs and clubs they would like to see in the school, I say to them, "Tell me the things you want to do, not the things you don't want to do."
I've asked them to think about the past and decide what they want for the future.
One thing I've already started is a birthday celebration that will take place at the end of each month in the cafeteria.
We will decorate and celebrate those who have a birthday that month. ... We want to celebrate the gift of life and make the kids feel special.
I got the idea for a chess club from one of the middle-school students who came in to meet with me. ... He mentioned he played chess, and now he is the leader.
I like it when students buy into a concept because they have an interest and take responsibility.Editor's Note: Correspondent Anne Woodman attends St. Michael Catholic Church