At most schools, the assistant principal handles discipline. He — and it’s often a male — breaks up fights, hands out suspensions and tracks down truants.
Staples is not most schools.
There, assistant principals have a wide range of tasks. They handle every aspect of student life, from curriculum and the daily calendar to clubs and activities. They’re involved in attendance, academic integrity, even proms.
That’s just part of the job description. Meghan Ward, for example, oversees online courses, the independent learning experience and Pathways, Staples’ alternative school program. She works with academic support classes, and — particularly this year, with COVID complications — collaborates closely with guidance counselors, pupil personnel services, social workers and psychol0gists to keep students on track.
All of those skills and experiences will help Ward when she leaves Staples this summer. The assistant principal has been named principal of John Read Middle School in Redding.
It’s a homecoming of sorts. Ward attended Joel Barlow High School — which her new school feeds into — and loved it. Among other activities, she was Student Council president.
She enjoyed an introductory education class at Providence College, but graduated from Southern Connecticut State University as a political science major.
Her first job was with US Tobacco in Greenwich. Working in governmental affairs, she met an intern who headed back to school for a master’s in education.
That piqued her interest. Ward shifted gears, got her own master’s at Sacred Heart University, and student taught in social studies at Trumbull High, under Jon Shepro.
In 2004, 2 positions opened up a Staples. Shepro and Ward filled them both.
Ward spent 9 years in the classroom. She credits “awesome administrators” with allowing her to “take risks and try new things.” Student-centered classrooms encouraged students to think for themselves.
“I was given a gift to be creative and independent,” she says. “We teach to common standards, but the way we deliver education is our own. The 25 kids in my classroom may be very different from the ones next door.”
Along the way, Ward became certified as an administrator. When she and her husband moved to Maine, she was hired as dean of students for a regional high school.
She loved the opportunity to get to know both “the whole student” — not just the one in a Global Themes or US history class — and the entire sophomore class. The challenges — academic, social, interpersonal, family dynamics — were fascinating. Her principal and administrative team were “totally student-centered.”
The school included an alternative program. It was Ward’s first experience with teenagers who — though school was “not their thing” — followed a positive path.
“Every kid had a passion for something,” Ward says. “One of them loved welding. We figured out how he could get credit for it. Creativity can change the course of someone’s life. If you listen and believe in them when they’re at their lowest point, they’ll respond.”
Ward’s next position was assistant position at Old Orchard Beach High School. She was involved in the alternative education program there too.
She moved on to the principalship of York High School. “An amazing experience!” she says. “The staff and Board of Education were very supportive. The amount of time they committed to kids was incredible.”
She left with regrets, when her family returned to Connecticut. Fortuitously, an assistant principal’s position opened up at Staples, in the fall of 2016.
Ward worked with then-principal James D’Amico to develop the Pathways program. Among her dozens of responsibilities, it’s been among the most rewarding.
She takes the “path” idea literally. “We can actually help create a way for each kid to get what they need to succeed,” she says.
Returning as an administrator to the high school where she once taught was eye-opening. She gained a deeper understanding of the interrelationships between all staff members, and the importance of listening closely to others in order to make the best decisions for “the student, the building and the town.”
Staples is the only Connecticut school building Ward ever worked in. She is grateful for the support and opportunities she’s received, from “special, incredible” colleagues.
Now she heads to a different one — and with a different age group.
“After embracing 9th graders coming to Staples, I’m excited to work with middle schoolers,” Ward says. “Fifth through 8th graders: What do those pathways look like?”
As usual, she’ll listen — to students, their families, the community.
Then Ward — the mother of a 5th and 7th grader herself — will take the lessons she’s learned in Westport and Maine, and apply them to John Read Middle School.
A new path awaits.