Eisenhower Middle School Principal Tracy Newell plans to put up a saying in his office that applies to the way he approaches student learning.
“‘When you go fishing, you don’t use bait that you like, you use bait that the fish like,’” he said.
The actual hanging of the saying awaits unloading the rest of his office material. “I got it in one of those boxes over there,” he said, pointing to a stack of white boxes along the wall. Newell, who since 2006 had been lead associate principal at Garden City High School, replaced Greg Hoyt when school opened Wednesday.
Hoyt is going through a transition period of his own as the new Manhattan High principal.
Newell wants his first remarks to the entire school community to be about his passion. “More than anything, I want them to know that I care about the students,” he said.
Hoyt said he’s talked about the Eisenhower position in “bits and pieces” with Newell. He called those discussions an ongoing process.
As far as his own first days, Hoyt described feelings of excitement, anxiety and nervousness. He said the size of the facility and the increased number of people he’s involved with are among the causes for those feelings.
“I knew it would be that way, but until you actually experience it, it’s hard to put yourself there,” Hoyt said.
Entering an established culture at his new school, Newell said now is the time for building bridges with the staff.
“Not necessarily coming in and changing a bunch of routines is important,” he said. “If they got some established practices and routines that are working very well, why would I then try to change that?”
Hoyt said the mutual trust gained throughout his nine years at Eisenhower now has to be developed with MHS personnel, who have their own customs. He said he can’t determine what might be better if done differently without dialogue and learning more.
“While I’m familiar with a lot of staff members up here, the deepness of the relationship is not there,” he said. “That changes things in how you interact with people.”
Newell and Hoyt are making the switch in grade levels that requires a different way of handling things.
They both have experience at their current grade levels: Hoyt taught math at MHS from 1988 to 2004, and Newell taught math at Oskaloosa Middle School from 1997 to 2004.
Newell said middle school students go through major mental and physical changes. “Middle school students are a little more emotionally needy,” he said. “They need that pat on the back, that smile, that ‘How are you doing today?’”
Newell said being on the middle school level fits his personality better. “High school students knew I was going to do all of this as well, but they didn’t always seem to need it,” he said.
Newell said he wants students to be able to come in, sit down and talk with him if they have a problem. “To do that, you have to get them on a comfort level and show that you do care about them,” he said.
The students Hoyt saw as middle schoolers are now an older group. He said high school students are more mature and crave more trust and responsibility. “Something that’s taking a little bit of adjustment on my part is to not treat to treat the 16-, 17- and 18-year-old students as middle school students,” he said.
They both mentioned setting the appropriate tone, which involves being seen by everybody. “I just honestly believe that the first week-and-a-half to two weeks of school sets the tone for how the rest of the year is going to proceed,” Hoyt said.
Dealing with the bigger structure includes the east campus, where the ninth-grade students attend classes.
“The challenge for me is to remind myself I have more than just a responsibility to the west campus,” Hoyt said. He spent part of his Friday greeting the ninth-grade students at East campus.
Despite coming into different situations, the new principals said there are similarities that carry over regardless of where they lead.
Hoyt said people of all ages appreciate when others “keep it real, keep it honest, keep it respectful.” “You appreciate honest and open feedback and communication,” he said. “That’s how I try to communicate, no matter who I’m communicating with.”
Whether dealing with a middle schooler or a high schooler, Newell said he tries not to raise his voice or be judgmental, even if an issue needs to be addressed. “You treat them with dignity and respect,” Newell said. “You talk to the student, not down to the student.”