New Principal in an Empty School: by Eve Brown-Ryder

Memorial welcomes a new addition to the family this year as Mr. Shaun St. Onge takes over the principalship. He was born in Manchester and has stayed local for most of his life. His education includes a teaching certification from St. Anselm College plus a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Leadership Ethics and Change from the University of New England. Prior to Memorial, Mr. St. Onge was the vice-principal at Merrimack Valley High School.

“There’s a difference in being principal and vice-principal,” explains Mr. St. Onge “there are different tasks, different roles. I did have a lot of principal responsibilities as a vice-principal so there was a lot of preparation… When you’re the principal you have to consider every aspect: every student, every type of way students can learn, [and] every aspect of the building.”

A downside to starting in a new school during remote learning is that Mr. St. Onge has not had the opportunity to meet many students. He is hoping “to have some forums where people can log in and we can chat and have some open meetings for students to say ‘hey’ and get to know me.” He is trying not to let remote learning get the best of him, though. “We went from crazy where we didn’t know everything in the spring… to more organized chaos [now]” and part of that organization for Mr. St. Onge is trying to treat remote learning like any normal school year. “There’s the day shift when the students are in the building and then there’s the night shift… in the afternoon I put on some music and just try to get into the email… prioritize and get as much as you can done in a day.”

Even though there is a lot of adjusting to do as a principal, St. Onge feels “like I’m a total part of the school already,” which is good because he has some big plans for Memorial. He is currently trying to coordinate a virtual recruitment fair for the school’s clubs and organizations along with trying to get these groups back in the building for regular meetings. Another plan is to assemble a communications team of students and staff, similar to the one he had at Merrimack Valley. This group would work together to put out newsletters containing general information, students and teachers of the month, and other good things that have happened because “schools in general often don’t focus enough on the great things going on.” He also hopes to launch Memorial pages on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

Another component of Memorial’s future that Mr. St. Onge is examining is what will happen with hybrid learning. “I think the world is anxious right now about everything so any transition is going to have some anxiety along with it.” In order to quell some of these fears, Mr. St. Onge is trying to communicate with the district to the best of his ability so that he can answer everybody’s questions. Despite these efforts, though, he recognizes that “it would be unrealistic to say we know how hybrid [learning] will go. We’re planning every minute of the day to coordinate things, but we don’t know exactly how it’s going to go.” 

No matter what happens, though, Principal St. Onge wants to share that he is “open to listening to everybody and having as much involvement as I can from students. Each year there’s four grades and then the next year comes a new grade. Schools should constantly be evolving because there are different people in it… The students are the ones who need to be important factors [in the way the school operates].”

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