As most of you know, this past school year at SHS has been an active one in terms of hiring. Following the departure of some key members of the Scarsdale High Schools administrative staff (Principal John Klemme and Co-Principals Kelly Hamm and Fred Goldberg,) SHS leadership was left with a void. Superintendent Michael McGill faced the daunting task of hiring a new set of principals to continue the course of educational excellence set by the departing staffers. Former Principal John Klemme will be replaced by Kenneth Bonamo and Dr. Chris Griffin will be taking over as a new Assistant Principal. Not to be confused with Chris Griffin of the popular TV series “Family Guy”, Dr. Griffin is neither animated nor a teenager. In fact, he was formerly a head counselor in the Katonah-Lewisboro school district. Just to recap: not animated, adult, former head counselor. While this information is helpful, it doesn’t paint a clear enough picture of SHS’s soon to be new administrator. And we figured it would be a good idea to find out a little more about him, so Scarsdale10583 sent him some questions. This is what he shared with us…
What influenced you to choose education as a career?
I enjoy working with people - especially young people. As a young adult, I did some volunteer work that involved teaching English to young men who were beginners with the language. The process of teaching and learning was so exciting that I decided to make a career out of it.
How do you see your administrative style meshing with that of SHS’s new principal Kenneth Bonamo?
Even in the short time that we have spent together, it has become clear to me that Mr. Bonamo enjoys his work and cares deeply about students. I look forward to working with Mr. Bonamo and my other administrative colleagues and I am confident that we are going to make an outstanding team.
What do you think it takes to be successful as a Assistant Principal?
I think that a successful Assistant Principal is one who enjoys working with students, is excited about the process of teaching and learning and is willing to work hard to help keep the school running smoothly.
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment in education, thus far?
I just received an email from a former student who graduated six years ago. He wanted to update me on his progress and also check in with me. Those connections are, by far, the most rewarding accomplishments I enjoy as an educator.
What is your philosophy on discipline?
I believe that everyone has a strong need to belong. When students feel disconnected from the school community, they are likely to act out. My goal is to help students get connected with their peers, teachers and counselors so that they feel a sense of belonging in school. When someone feels connected to a community, you can expect great things from them.
Bullying is a perpetual problem that plagues nearly all high schools. As a counselor, what was your approach to bullying in the Katonah-Lewisboro school district? And how, as vice principal, will you attempt to deal with bullying related issues here at SHS? Do you feel that the difference in your position will affect your approach?
Bullying is again, in many ways, a function of a student’s sense of belonging in school. A school system must promote, through programming, professional development and policy, a community that values respect for both self and others. Students who feel respected are likely to feel connected within the community and are less likely to engage in bullying. And a strong community is less likely to tolerate mean and hurtful behavior. No matter how hard a school system works to promote community, there will always be incidents of bullying. Counselors, teachers and administrators must work with both the victim and the aggressor to put an immediate stop to the behavior and then to work long term to ensure that the behavior doesn’t continue. Although the counselor’s and assistant principal’s approaches may be different, the goal is always the same – to put an end to bullying.
What were the greatest challenges you faced in your counseling position in Katonah-Lewisboro? What do you feel will be the biggest challenges as Assistant Principal of SHS?
One of the greatest challenges I faced as a director was helping counselors manage the pressure and complexity of a caseload of high school students. As an Assistant Principal, I will be working closely with half of the student body and will most likely feel these same pressures. With that said, I look forward to having the opportunity to work closely with students and to help them make the most of their high school experience.
What aspect of your new position are you most excited about?
As a Director, I did not have a specific caseload of students. In my new position, I am looking forward to having more direct contact with students and helping them navigate the high school experience. I am also excited about spending more time in the classroom, observing teachers and students engaged in the learning process.
How do you plan to help students relieve some of the stress associated with attending a high-pressure school system such as Scarsdale?
The quick answer is - one student, one interaction at a time. I am accustomed to working with students who put a great deal of pressure on themselves. These students need a friendly, supportive and trusted adult who they can process their experience with. I believe in achievement and hard work, but I also believe in the need for rest, recuperation and reflection.
What is your opinion on the role of parents in a students’ educational development? Do you feel that the current level of parental involvement is appropriate?
Parents should be, and must be, involved in the lives of their children. A parent’s voice and influence is critical in the success of their children. Particularly in high school, some parents make the unfortunate mistake of trying to manage all aspects of a student’s school life. Parents need to find the balance of being a supportive and guiding presence while also allowing some space for their child to grow. Adolescents need to experience freedom and autonomy, particularly with regard to the day to day realities of being a high school student, so that they can develop important decision making abilities and critical personal attributes such as resilience.
Academics aside, what are some of your hobbies and interests?
I have three children (9, 6 and 2) that keep me very busy. I love to read books on history, philosophy and religion. I have enjoyed studying martial arts for many years. Lastly, I love to hike; I feel my best when I am breathing fresh air and enjoying the beauty of nature.
Writer David Candell graduated from Scarsdale High School in 2011 and recently completed his freshman year at Boston University.