Perrin credits staff for his award

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BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Union High School Principal Steven Perrin has been named Vermont's High School Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. On Friday, Perrin said the award is truly for the entire staff at BUHS.

"The award is a big honor for me," he said. "I'm flattered and I'm overwhelmed, but the reality is that it represents the work that every adult does in this building, from the facilities guy to the teachers, to the other administrators. Nobody is an effective principal in a vacuum. The job requires that you collaborate with everybody. Really it's a tribute to the entire high school community."

Ron Stahley, superintendent of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, emphasized Perrin's inclusive approach.

"His style is very collaborative," Stahley noted, "with teachers and other principals —he's been a great support for other principals. I think his work with the Career Center on Collegiate High School is one of the reasons it's been so successful." Collegiate High School offers students dual credit— both high-school credit and credits from local colleges — for courses at BUHS and the Career Center. Perrin said he is proudest of the steps BUHS has taken "to become a more responsive school that recognizes the changing role of schools." His examples included updated course offerings,such as the academies — STEM, Visual and Performing Arts, and the new International Studies Academy — and biomedical studies.

"We've also begun to shift to a more student-centered environment," he said. "We now offer an intervention block [ACE - Academic Challenge and Excellence] and as we've moved to a proficiency model, we've moved to more of a growth mindset for our students. We're hoping that students realize that rather than saying, 'I can't do something,' whether it's math or science, they shift to a mindset of 'I can't do this yet, and this is what I need to be successful.' Basically the idea is that their intelligence in any one area is not fixed, that they and everybody in this community can grow and learn, and has potential."

Perrin came to BUHS as a science teacher in 1995 and served as assistant principal from 2007 to 2011, when he was named first interim principal and then principal. In his career he has seen changes that affect educators' work.

"One of the biggest challenges is supporting students who are living with food uncertainty and very tenuous family circumstances," he commented. "We're really seeing poverty impact kids' ability to access education, and also impact their understanding of the importance of education. When we grew up we had a strong nuclear family that would support us, take care of basic needs, and support steps after high school; some of our students don't have that. Many of them can't focus on education because they're wondering where they're going to sleep and if they're going to eat.

"At the other end of the spectrum, as we look at school itself, we're looking at very comprehensive changes as we consider proficiency-based practices, changing everything from the way we assess students to the way we report grades," he continued "In that undertaking, we're looking at a structure that's been in place for hundreds of years, and we're trying to become a more responsive institution."

All these changes affect his job from day to day.

"I'm continually amazed at the resilience of our students and the unwavering dedication of our staff," he said. "A lot of days, students will present a whole new scenario or life situation that I've never been aware of. I never thought I would deal with loose reptiles in the school, or beaver-dams over by the career center - they were actually blocking access to the Famolare Field. There are times when you're asked to put on a hat you never thought you'd wear and to take on roles that you'd never associate with a high-school principal. Sometimes I'm an animal-control officer, sometimes I'm a crisis counselor.

"There's no typical day," he went on. "Every day I start at the front of the school, greeting students and having informal parent conferences. That might be one of the highlights of my day, even if it's 20 below zero, having the ability to model 'Good morning' and get it back from kids. That's an important thing - as a classroom teacher I stood outside my classroom every day, and this is a bigger version of that."

After that beginning, Perrin's work days vary.

"In any given day I might be meeting with my administrators, I might meet with my department heads, with counselors or with Robert Clark, the facilities manager, " he explained. "I make it a point to at least visit some classrooms every day, whether it's just to walk through or it's a formal observation. I may meet with the other principals - middle school and Career Center administrators - and with the superintendent. At the end of the student day I make sure I'm outside as students leave. Following that, I try to walk through some sports programs if they're here, or I meet with teachers who stop by, and then some nights after that there may be a board meeting or a sporting event, and then after that, I go home and catch up on emails and communications."

Perrin, who lives with his wife and two daughters, tries to structure his evening work around them.

"I try to balance that time - helping my kids with their homework, and I am the main cook in the family; I cook dinner every night," he said. "As my daughters have grown to become teenagers, I've started to appreciate things like our later start time, because it's really hard to wake my kids up."

Perrin will formally receive his award in August, at the Vermont Principals' Association Conference

"I get to deliver a speech," he noted. "Considering that I have 30 years of experience in education, the fact that I'm so nervous about that speech tells you how important it is.

"In late September I travel to Washington to compete in the national contest," he went on. "Vermont's never had a winner at that level, but past participants have told me it's a great experience - including Andy Paciulli, Ingrid Chrisco and Ron Stahley, who are past Vermont winners in their categories from the WSESU. I guess that's pretty good company to be in.

"I want to come to work every day because I enjoy the students, I love working with the best faculty in New England, and I feel like the job I do makes a difference," he said. "I'm incredibly proud of the school and the work that everybody here does. It means a lot to be the person who leads this community."

Maggie Brown Cassidy, a regular contributor to the Reformer, can be reached at mcassidy@sover.net.

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