Being a school administrator is not just a profession for the area’s four new principals. It is a passion and it is that aspect they most hope to exhibit in their new assignments.
This week and next week, schools in the area are starting the 2017-18 academic year with new principals at two high schools, one middle school and one elementary school.
Riverwood International Charter High School is welcoming its new principal, Charles “Chuck” Garner, while Chamblee Charter High School will say hello to its new top school administrator, Principal Rebecca Braaten.
In addition, Sandy Springs Charter Middle School, which earlier this year bid farewell to Gardner, is welcoming Jerome Huff as its interim principal, while at E. Rivers Elementary School, John Waller has taken the leadership reins.
Although these new principals have a combined 76 years of teaching and administrative experience, each said, without a doubt, their biggest joy remains working with students.
Gardner, who is beginning his 15th year as an administrator and educator, started his career in Cobb County as a band director for six years and then became the assistant administrator at Campbell High School in Smyrna. He then joined the Fulton County district serving at North Springs Charter High School and then principal at the alternative McClarin High School in College Park before serving as principal at Sandy Springs Middle.
“I am excited and proud to be the principal here at Riverwood … as we have a fine student body of about 1,500 students,” he said.
Gardner wants to see his students be successful in school but, even more so, be successful in life.
“My goal is to bridge the gap and give those kids, while they are in school, as much exposure to the real world as possible,” he said. “In addition to the curriculum, I want them to learn skills such as collaborating in solving problems and being able to think on their feet.”
Braaten, who is married with four children, is starting her 22nd year in education, where she has taught in three states and has served as a guidance counselor, assistant principal, senior director and was even the assistant superintendent for education in Columbus.
Her philosophy is to make sure that each of Chamblee’s 1,175 students get a high quality education which, she said, “comes to fruition in high school.”
Braaten has not set any goals for the school as yet because, with school having started Monday, she intends to visit each classroom and watch her teachers instruct.
“For a student to be successful in school, he has to actually come to school,” she said. “I want our students to hold themselves accountable and set goals for themselves and, if their teacher does not notice they may be struggling with a subject, I want our students to reach out to that teacher and talk to their guidance counselors and administrators for help.
“We are all here with the main goal of helping our students succeed.”
Huff, who retired as an educator at the end of the 2016-17 school year, said he was somewhat surprised when he was asked to serve as the interim principal at Sandy Springs Middle.
“However, I was happy to help because the Fulton County school system has always been good to me and I have great memories of working in the school system,” he said.
Huff joined the district in 1999 and had served as an assistant principal and principal at Roswell High School for a combined 10 years as well as a year at Elkins Point Middle School.
“I want our students, and especially our parents, to know that myself and our entire staff are here to serve our students,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing all the new faces and easing the any concerns our students may have coming from elementary school as sixth graders to middle school as seventh-graders.”
Waller, who has been in education 22 years, teaching in Gwinnett County and Marietta schools, said he is thrilled to be at a school with as great a history as Rivers Elementary.
“Even better, I am serving as principal of a school in my own neighborhood as I live about a mile from the school,” he said.
Although Waller hasn’t set any goals yet for this school year, he will meet with the Rivers’ school council to look at academic data from last year. After that he plans to set goals for the school’s 750 students.
“I want E. Rivers to be a place that all kids learn at a level that are appropriate for them,” he said. “I also have the goal of bringing all our students up to their appropriate grade level in math and reading.”
Waller also said he wants Rivers Elementary to be a “school of choice” so families are encouraged to move into the neighborhood.