The first two candidates for Frank V. Bergman principal discussed their philosophies for leadership during a forum Tuesday at the school.
Steve Koch and Heather Calvert answered questions from teachers and parents for about 45 minutes. They are two of the four candidates interviewing for the position. Current principal Lori Martin will retire in July.
Koch currently serves as principal at Lincoln Elementary School in Lincoln, Kansas. He has over 20 years of experience in public education, including serving as an elementary and middle school teacher. He’s taught in Abilene and Salina, and has been principal for the last seven years in Lincoln.
Koch said he is interested in the position because it would bring him closer to his family. He said his children live in Abilene, Bonner Springs, Wichita and Topeka. He also said he misses the diverse schools like the ones in Salina.
“Salina had economic and racial diversity,” he said. “We have a few Hispanic families and a few black families, but I miss it tremendously.”
He said he originally was going to go into forestry when he was in college, but job prospects were low, so he majored in business to take over his dad’s car dealership. Just before graduating, his dad sold the dealership, and Koch eventually went into insurance sales. Once someone told him he would be a good teacher, he changed his path.
Calvert is currently the principal at Indian Hills Elementary School in Topeka. She has served as an elementary assistant principal and classroom teacher.
She said she has taught and served in leadership positions in Topeka since she graduated from K-State, and would love to come back to the area.
She said in her interview she thinks her students and staff would describe her as “a lot of fun.” She said Indian Hills programs like her and the teachers riding the bus home with the kids and starting a school chant have made the school better.
“We always have fun, whether it’s a special day or a pizza party or building community culture,” Calvert said.
Calvert and Koch had similar answers in terms of inclusion of special education students in classrooms and activities, to try and include them “one day at a time.”
However, they differed in their willingness to jump on board with getting a therapy dog for the school.
Calvert immediately said she wants one and the school would just need to follow the guidelines in place.
Koch, who raised hunting dogs when he was younger and wanted a therapy dog at one point, talked about opportunity cost and if the benefits would outweigh the costs.
“You have to know all the student allergies, and if there are students in this wing with allergies, that doesn’t mean you can just put the dog in that wing,” he said. “The dog couldn’t go into the common areas, like the library, the gym.”
He also said he wasn’t sure it was worth having a dedicated teacher or faculty member who would have to take the dog for a walk, care for the dog during breaks and vet care, when the money could just be used on students.
Koch described his principal style as having an open door and letting his teachers teach. He said he didn’t want to micromanage them, but had one request.
“Have an extra worksheet and an open chair and desk in your room because I want to learn what your students are learning,” he said. “At the end, I’ll leave a positive note and maybe something I saw, like ‘I noticed you didn’t ask ‘Johnny’ a question today.’”
He said in doing so, he would also give the teachers the opportunity to explain why, like if Johnny’s parents are getting a divorce and the stress might be too much in the moment.
“I wouldn’t know that,” he said. “You know your students and what’s best for them.”
Calvert said she’s a “very energetic leader.” In her first year, she said she’d mostly observe.
“It’s not my place, especially in the first year, to say what needs changing,” she said. “I’ll figure out what’s going on and why we do things that way.”
Interviews were scheduled to continue Wednesday with Christopher Delforge and Laurie Harwood.