Pioneer High School's new interim principal has 39 years' experience in public education, and a 19-year tenure as a high school principal that ended with her retirement in 2020.
Carol Townsend is a first-time interim principal. She led Depew High School for 19 years, helping to plan a commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 that many still look back on fondly.
"We did everything we could for those kids within the pandemic restrictions," Mrs. Townsend said. "They really wanted to walk the stage, so we arranged for them to do that, one-by-one, with their family members. Then we pieced together a video and showed it at the local drive-in."
Now Mrs. Townsend will head Pioneer High School as it searches for its next principal. The search is expected to last several months.
We interviewed Mrs. Townsend on the eve of 2022-23.
Q: This is your first time as an interim. What observations have you made or what things are you noticing versus being a permanent principal?
A: You're coming in as a temporary person, so rather than entering like a bull in a china shop, demanding instant changes, you need to take a low-key approach, find out what's in place, what the history is, and figure out how to support the plan going forward. I'm not here to change the world. I'm here to help with the transition to new leadership, move on with current goals, get involved with committees, etc., because it isn't a long time. You want it to be a collaborative time, because you need ownership of any initiatives from those who are still here after I leave.
Q: Do you see yourself continuing to be an interim administrator post-Pioneer?
A: I think so. I really like the mentoring aspect of it. There's a serious need for that in our field. You've got a couple of assistant principals (Katelyn Welker and Michael Jansma) who seem very open to mentoring and improvement.
Q: What types of things can be accomplished in such a short time on the job?
A: I'm learning about the most immediate needs. Consistency of policies and procedures seems to be one. I've been working with the administrators how we can reword a few things and "tweak" some language, so the school year gets off to a smooth start. As far as taking on anything brand new, it's probably not my place. Just offering my support and perspective, that'll be my focus.
I'm looking forward to meeting the teachers and staff to know what their concerns are as well.
Q: What kinds of first impressions has Pioneer made on you?
A: First of all, you have parents, students, staff and administration that have been extremely welcoming and very friendly. You can tell that this is a close-knit community. Beyond that, the school itself has so much to offer. The capital project will result in a facility that is second-to-none, absolutely beautiful. Third, the programs are just amazing. The number of Career Tech programs you have right here in the building. Students can graduate high school and enter the workforce with some highly needed skills. Welding, Agriculture, Finance Academy; there's just an impressive list.
Q: How would you describe Carol Townsend's leadership style and how is it different from what we've seen?
A: I describe my leadership style as being collaborative. I am not 'top-down'; I am 'bottom-up'. I really believe that those who own the problem need to be part of the solution. If we're to make progress on any issue, teachers and staff need to be part of the process, because without buy-in, you're going to go nowhere. You can put all the most wonderful programs in place, but none of them will be sustainable unless you have good teacher-leaders that are involved with the process. Not only creating the program or the process, but also making the regular changes or tweaks along the way.
Q: If you had a message to share with the parents of Pioneer High School students, what would it be?
A: I would hope that they would give the staff and faculty a fresh start. This school district and every school district in the nation have gone through an horrific time the last two years, and the morale of parents, students and teachers is super low, and the frustration level is at an all-time high. We have to get back on track, and we need everybody on board to do that. We can't do that with pre-conceived ideas that the school doesn't know what it's doing. Give us a chance to right the ship, get kids back into the school building, socializing, learning, feeling like they're part of the school. Letting them enjoy the activities and traditions; help them get back into that and enjoy school again.
We all need that. We all need to heal. It's going to take the support of everyone to do it.
Q: You're being asked to set the tone for 2022-23 and then hand it off. What does that look like?
A: I think we need to get back to a high level of standards and expectation for academic success. We have been forced by the state and by the Covid-19 regulations to lower the bar. It's time to get back, time to raise the standards. Some of these kids have lost out on a valuable education, and we need to embrace learning again. Help them understand what's going to need to happen to get them onto the next step in their learning. Whether that looks like college or moving into the workforce, they're not ready at this point. They've missed out on two years, probably closer to three. We need to re-teach what it's going to take, because colleges aren't going to lower the bar.
We can do it, but it's going to take an effort on the part of everyone.
Q: Anything else that people should know?
A: I'm totally open to meeting with parents if they have a concern about their child or school life. Come and see me; don't let it fester or become anger. Let's find a solution before it becomes a bigger problem.