The learning curve
June 21, 2013
New SW Principal John Purcell had much to learn, much to teach
By GLEN WERLING
It’s been a learning year for Southern Wells Elementary School first-year principal John Purcell.
“I’ve been learning the culture, learning about people. All schools have unique cultures,” said Purcell, who has worked with four different school corporations. “There’s not a right or wrong or a good or bad culture. They’re all unique, and they should be,” he added.
Tradition drives the Southern Wells culture, Purcell believes, “which personally I find refreshing.”
He pointed to the annual sixth grade trip to McCormick’s Creek State Park as an example. “Another example is track day that we have at the end of each year. That has been unique to me and refreshing for me personally. It fits with my core beliefs. It’s something that’s real, something that works.”
The culture is also unique for Southern Wells because it’s a kindergarten through high school building. That’s a feature that Purcell enjoyed when he taught at Churubusco for nine years. “So, it wasn’t new to me, but Churubusco’s culture is different from Southern Wells. Churubusco was in a small town that was a little closer to Fort Wayne, so Fort Wayne had an influence on Churubusco’s culture,” Purcell said.
“I have found the kids, the staff and the parents at Southern Wells to be very authentic, very forthright and very understanding,” he said.
Purcell’s prior job was principal at Lancaster Elementary School in Huntington County. It was a job he enjoyed, but he missed the autonomy he experienced at Churubusco.
“At Lancaster, it was becoming more and more difficult to balance the changes at the state level with the changes that were occurring at the corporation level. It was frustrating for me to keep up, only because I had had a taste of autonomy from Churubusco, where I was the only elementary school principal I had the ability to plan from the ground up. At Lancaster, I was part of a school corporation where I was just one of several elementary principals — it was just a good time for me to seek out that autonomy again.
“That being said, though, I’m working much harder. That’s OK, though, because I’m making the work for myself. It’s refreshing because with the many mandates that we do have from the state, planning from the ground up for our own school should be more fruitful more quickly,” said Purcell.
At a larger school corporation, resources are divided and sent by the collective where they appear to be needed most. With a small school district, there’s no coordination needed except with the staff and other administrators, Purcell observed.
“I can also work more closely with the teachers, the teachers have more of a voice and so do I,” he added.
Purcell loves being able to help teachers see children in a different light. He said he has learned from his mistakes as a teacher, principal, and father, and wants to use what he has learned to help teachers realize that the child seated at the desk in their classroom may be one of many children to them, but that teacher plays a major roll in that child’s life.
“I also want them to understand that students do learn in different ways and different rates. When kids come to school, they really do want to be successful.”
Purcell said that when he looks back at teachers that he learned from, he thinks about how he and his classmates wanted to be successful because of the example that they set and because of the rapport they had with their students.
“It’s not easy for a teacher to do this, but you need to take that time to get to know your kids. You need to connect with them and you need to help them to be successful, not just from an academic standpoint, but also from an emotional standpoint,” Purcell said. “You make those memories with those kids. You take the time to get to know their interests, get to know their fears. Make that connection and they’ll be successful. And there’s nothing that promotes success like success,” said Purcell.
“Meeting the needs of all kids can be tough, but effective teachers know how to do it and they do it. With the talent we have on staff at Southern Wells, it may be tough, but it’s doable and I know we can do it,” he concluded.υ