Hired in May, Joe Tellier thought he would report to school this August as an assistant principal at Amherst Steele High School.
Instead, he’s already been promoted to head principal following the last-minute departure of Michael May, who held the spot for five years.
“I’m excited just to be the conductor of it all,” Tellier said, sitting down in his new office.
Born and raised in Elyria, he taught math for 16 years in Vermilion and spent the last six years as assistant principal at Vermilion High School.
He’s spent the last couple of weeks meeting teachers, helping the Marching Comets build platforms, and learning the complicated ins and outs of high school scheduling.
Often as not, Tellier’s rolled up his sleeves and gotten his hands dirty in the process: “I believe in servant leadership. I tell my staff I’m going to remove any obstacle I can to help them focus on what’s most important, and that’s the students,” he said.
The first item of business was making sure the high school would be ready for students in grades nine to 12 after a summer of expansive heating and cooling renovations.
Portions of Steele have been without air conditioning until now; upstairs classroom temperatures often spiked into the upper 90s. Teachers would sometimes have to take their work outside, under the branches of shade trees, just to avoid having students pass out.
A $2.26 million HVAC installation project to relieve those problems had fallen behind schedule but workers put in an early August push to get on track.
Custodial staff has been busy cleaning and painting — the only casualty is the gymnasium floor, which can’t be sealed and waxed until later this fall due to the HVAC job. It will still be usable but won’t have the normal start-of-the-year shine, Tellier said.
In the classroom, algebra and geometry will get added emphasis this year following struggles last year on state tests. Tellier said he wants to continue May’s work expanding course offerings — 12 electives were added in the past four years.
And for the first time, the orchestra will be active at the high school. It was launched several years ago at the middle school level and has moved up through Nord Middle and Amherst Junior High schools — now those students are freshmen.
Mental health will be addressed this year. Tellier said society is changing and more attention needs to be give to emotional and mental well-being.
“No kid wants to misbehave,” he said. “Why are they misbehaving? There are triggers going on. They’re here on an empty stomach. They’re going home and looking after younger siblings. They’re being asked to do more and more.”
Those students who at one time would have been labeled “troublemakers” are in trouble themselves and need help, he said. Their behavior is a symptom of a larger issue.
A full-time social worker will be made available this year to talk about anxiety, suicide prevention, and stress over GPA and test scores.
Tellier said it’s important that students know, before even stepping inside the school, that they’ll be accepted and helped.
“I always want them to have a purpose,” he said. “We’re going to be college and career ready. Communicate with your counselor. Make sure they know where you want to go… Make sure you have a success plan where you know what you want and the classes you need to get there. Do you need to take part in student council? In sports? In Leo Club? Have a game plan, whether it’s going into a trade, into college, or into the military.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.