The Groton Junior/Senior High School is about to head into the third month under the guide of its new principal, Tammy Farrell.
Prior to taking the position in Groton, Ferrell was the interim vice principal at the Syracuse City School District from August 2017 to June 2018. Her first job in the field of education came in 1999 as a teacher and a program coordinator for at-risk youth – grades fifth through 12th – at Juvenile Justice Services. She spent one year at the position before moving on to teach fifth and sixth grade at the Syracuse City Schools from 2000 to 2005, and then teach sixth grade at Marcellus Central Schools in Marcellus, NY from 2005 to 2013.
Farrell took on her first administrative gig in 2013 as the Director of Curriculum/Instruction and Special Programs at the Hannibal Central School District in Hannibal, NY. She worked for the Hannibal school district for close to three years before deciding an administrative job was not for her. For six months she worked as an independent school improvement consultant until she decided to give it another try as an administrator in education when she took the interim vice principal job in Syracuse.
Farrell sat down with the Groton Independent to discuss her time thus far at Groton Junior/Senior High School, her background and her goals as the school’s principal.
Groton Independent: You have been on the job for a couple of months. How has it been going so far?
Tammy Farrell: People have been very welcoming. Since school started, it’s very fast paced. In the summer, I got the chance to get to know people, put some professional development in place. When the school got running, that sort of connection piece slowed down a bit. I have to work harder to make connections and keep in touch, because you’re constantly looking at where are we going, what’s happening, what do I have to make sure we’re addressing. … I think one of the biggest challenges is getting people to know me and trust me, and that’s going to take some time and some work. Ways of doing that [are] constant communication with parents, being open and transparent; being available when parents do call, trying to help them see my point of view as well as their own point of view, really seeking to understand.
GI: You said you left your job in Hannibal because you thought an administrative position was not for you. What ultimately changed your mind?
TF: Being out in the consulting field, I traveled all over New York State. Sometimes I would be at a school once for an entire year, so I never got to see the fruits of the labor or create relationships. I wanted to be back in a system where I could see and continue that sort of progressive approach and see what was happening.
So I went back to Syracuse City Schools as an assistant principal. … At the end of that, a classroom came open, and so with all of these different experiences I thought, “Where am I going to go next?” So I took this classroom on last year, which really solidified [that] I still have a lot to do with leading teachers in moving students forward. After that year, in that fifth grade [classroom] last year, I started looking for a position in a principal role, because that’s the experience I hadn’t had yet. I’ve had experience [in pre-kindergarten] through seventh and eighth grade mostly. High school was really where I wanted some more experience and to see what I can do with the expertise that I have, and what I can learn from the place.
GI: You mentioned that you have no prior experience working at a high school level. Because Groton Junior/Senior High School encompasses grades sixth through 12th, do you think your experience working in sixth, seventh and eighth grade levels will aid in your adjustment to working with the high school grade levels?
TF: Yes, because two things. Because I have that K-8 background, I’m able to understand this [sixth through eighth grade] system within the [sixth through 12th grades], and because I have a district-level view, I’m able to see the whole picture K through 12. So that has helped me to understand where they came from, where are they now and where are they going.
GI: Was becoming a principal something that you have always wanted to become?
TF: I’m a teacher at heart, and I thought I’d always stay a teacher even when somebody tapped me to say, “Hey, did you ever think about this?” I said, “No, I’ve never thought about this.” People just kept encouraging me to become a leader in education.
GI: What key pieces of knowledge that you gained from all of your prior work experiences have you already applied to this position?
TF: The most important thing I learned is that systems and structures are so, so important, and to maintain those systems and structures, and when something falls out of that system or structure, putting it back into place. … Whether it’s student management, whether it’s social, emotional learning, whether it’s curriculum and instruction, student intervention, they all need some sort of system that has policies of protocols and innovation. It’s sort of a two-way street.
GI: Coming into this position, did you have and goals set for yourself or the school in general?
TF: I think my biggest goal was that learning curve of high school, and then making sure that … when kids fall behind that first year in high school it is very difficult to keep them on track. It’s too easy now to just say, “I’m done. I’m quitting school at 16-years-old.” My goal is every kid is going to have the opportunity to get the best education, and every kid has a connection and a relationship where they want to be here and that they stay and that they end each year on track for the next year.