Longest serving principal in years leads SHS out of decline
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | August 29,2013
SPRINGFIELD — Springfield High School Principal Bob Thibault was all smiles Wednesday.
It was the first day of classes for the incoming class of 2017 and faculty and staff were out front of the main building applauding their arrival. They wanted to show freshmen students what “Cosmos Pride” was all about and how the new ethos is turning the school around after years of academic decline.
“It is shaping our students in a positive way and it gives them a sense of pride,” Thibault said. “We want to show them that they are all valued here (at SHS).”
This is Thibault’s fifth school year as SHS principal. Prior to his arrival in 2009, there were nine different principals in 18 years at SHS.
Wayne Ogden was the longest serving principal — six years — in the late 1980s and early 1990s. All other principals before him stayed no longer than a year to three years.
When Thibault took over the reins, he realized it would be an uphill battle to turn the high school around.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Thibault said. “The teachers were traumatized by all the transitions. They thought, ‘Oh, here’s another principal who will come and go.’ I said, ‘Don’t expect any changes now. But in another year or two, we will all make it happen.’”
Thibault took an inventory, collaborated with teachers and staff and together they rebuilt the SHS academic program. David Kohn and Elizabeth Mirra were brought in to “coach” teachers and enhance curriculum engagement. They introduced problem-solving, critical thinking and logical reasoning and developed new ways to make learning more inclusive.
Thibault and former director of curriculum, instruction and assessment Zach McLaughlin, now the superintendent, established the “Cosmos Code” whereby students hold themselves accountable for learning and help others achieve their academic goals. In addition, there were several renovations to the school infrastructure, curriculum development continued and the hard work of Thibault, administrators, faculty and staff finally began to show.
Graduation rates improved to 75 percent at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. SHS now meets state average reading proficiency levels, trust between administrators and teachers have been restored and the high school community is strong as it ever has been, according to one teacher who has taught for 14 years at SHS.
“We have stability, leadership, a vision and a person who is student-driven and keeps students in mind,” freshman math teacher Gigi Guy said. “I think students really care about learning. That’s the biggest change. Coming to SHS means something to them.”
Although SHS has made several improvements in a short period of time, there is still more work to be done. Thibault hopes SHS can become an example of a school that can turn things around and become successful.
“I want SHS to be the place where people come to us and ask us about our successes. We have the people in the right positions now who want to move things forward and improve. I’ve built relationships with everyone ... I’m not leaving,” Thibault said.