Being an assistant principal can be risky business, but Brad Currie, assistant principal at Black River Middle School in Chester, NJ, knows that taking risks can sometimes produce robust rewards. And when Currie sees students and teachers taking academic risks, it brings a smile to his face. “We’re fortunate to have outstanding teachers who model risk-taking, which rubs off on our students,” he says. “On any given day, you can see students building robots, programming games, creating on Chromebooks, and collaborating on projects.” And that proactive educational philosophy is just one of the reasons why Currie is NASSP’s 2017 Assistant Principal of the Year.
Since becoming assistant principal at Black River Middle School five years ago, Currie has been able to make a major difference in the school’s culture. One of the key ways he has helped transform the school is by being involved in the classrooms and telling the school’s story through social media.
Currie believes that principals need to meet students where they are in both the physical and virtual worlds. “As educators, we must model the appropriate use of social media to students,” he explains. “That is why I am so passionate about using social media, particularly a tool like Twitter, to stay current with best practices and brand our school in a positive light. Social media, if used appropriately, provides students with an opportunity to gain perspective on topics.”
A Proactive Approach
Currie also has made a difference by supporting innovative learning environments such as the school’s makerspace, STEM program, and 1:1 Chromebook rollout. “I also feel that I have impacted teaching by working with our technology coaches to help support staff with effective technology integration.”
Sharing his world with others is also important. “I have helped open our school doors to other schools from around the world who want to visit and learn more about all of the wonderful learning experiences taking place at Black River Middle School,” he says.
Currie realized how he could make a real difference as an educational leader in the first years as a vice principal in another school district prior to his tenure at Black River Middle School. Currie had a student who refused to attend school on a weekly basis. “So, on a cold, rainy day, a guidance counselor, a police officer, and I went to this child’s house. He was nowhere to be found. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted him outside. After several attempts of calling this student’s name, we heard a rumbling from above the garage. I climbed up onto the roof of the garage and found the student hiding. After about a 10-minute conversation, I was able to convince the child to attend school.” When the student returned to school, Currie bought him lunch and had an additional conversation. From that point forward, the student missed fewer days of school, Currie says. “Situations like this are why I became an assistant principal. Our job is to provide a safe learning environment and exhaust all options in order to help every single child.”
The Testing Issue
When asked what one big change he would make in education today, Currie turns to the issue of testing. While he admits that assessment data is important, he notes that educators from all walks of life need to share more and see what is going on in other schools within and outside of their district. “I would change the way schools and districts compare themselves with other schools and districts by way of test scores and other data points,” he says. “I wish we could set up a program where educators could go visit other educators to learn something new, then bring back those new ideas and put them into practice.” Currie has done just that over the past few years; he’s visited a number of schools with his colleagues and brought back some great ideas that have impacted both students and staff.
Additionally, he says, “we need to focus on what the research says about impacting learning. Currently, I am studying the work of John Hattie and reading his Visible Learning.”
The Role of Assistant Principal
The role of the assistant principal is definitely changing, Currie says. In addition to the more traditional aspects of the job, such as discipline, he has been taking on other roles, such as chief “storyteller.” “Additionally, I am able to research and help support the implementation of our 1:1 Chromebook initiative and makerspace,” he explains.
Over the years, Currie says, he has been very fortunate to be around great leaders. “From my father, whom I worked for in the family lumberyard for over 17 years, to those I worked for when I was a teacher and as a school leader, I hope to one day have the same impact on others,” he notes. Currie says he has a “tremendous” relationship with his principal, Bob Mullen. “I have learned so much from him over the years. We are truly a team and tackle issues together. We constantly talk about and reflect on situations that arise. We are both passionate educators who want to see students excel, both in academics and extracurricular activities. We truly believe that all school stakeholders must be treated with respect and support in any way possible. It’s always about what’s best for kids.”
Michael Levin-Epstein is senior editor of Principal Leadership.
Currie is clearly into sports in a big way. He plays golf and roots hard for his local football team, the Philadelphia Eagles (and we all know how vocal Eagles fans are!). But one of his real passions is coaching his children in basketball and baseball. Being a “coach” is one of the hats that an assistant principal wears, and he uses some of those skills in coaching youth sports.
Successful coaches make strong connections with their players, Currie notes: “It’s a mixture of tough love and an ability to truly care about the individual player. Throughout my years as a middle school basketball and softball coach, I made it a top priority to connect with our players on and off the court and field. Over the past years, I still keep in contact with them and enjoy seeing their successes as adults. In fact, I still have many of our championship team photo plaques hanging in my office and will often point them out to people. One of the great lessons I learned and continue to learn as a coach is the ability to handle adversity and failure. There is no doubt that competition can bring out the best and the worst in people.”
At the end of the day, Currie concludes, participating in athletics makes everyone involved stronger and able to handle curve balls that may come at any given moment.
Brad Currie’s Top 3 Goals
- Do what’s best for the kids. Make sure they can thrive without distractions on a daily basis.
- Lead efforts to support and maintain innovative learning environments. That doesn’t necessarily have to involve high-tech solutions.
- Find ways to become a more effective educator. “That’s why, over the past six years, I have taken great pride in being a connected educator through the use of social media,” Currie says. “I feel the more I can improve, the more others can improve, and ultimately promote the success of all students.”
Based on these goals, you won’t be surprised by Currie’s motto: Keep fighting the good fight!