Greenfield High School principal settles in, crafts vision for future
By MARY BYRNE
Published: 2/6/2022 4:02:07 PM
Modified: 2/6/2022 4:00:26 PM
GREENFIELD — With a month under his belt, Greenfield High School Principal Derek Morrison is already looking ahead to his vision for the school in three years.
“I kind of always focus on a backwards design model, which is basically … ‘Where can I see this school being in two years?’” Morrison explained. ‘“What do I want to see in three years?’ It helps you progress … incrementally toward these goals.”
Morrison was hired late last year as principal of the high school, stepping into the shoes of Karin Patenaude, who took the position of assistant superintendent in June 2021. Greenfield Middle School Associate Principal Jonathan Cavallo served briefly as interim high school principal before deciding to return to his position at the middle school.
The Wilbraham resident most recently served as principal of 1st Sgt. Kevin A. Dupont Middle School in Chicopee.
“I started in education in 2002 for the city of Chicopee,” Morrison said. “I worked for about five years for the Department of Youth Services in their juvenile justice division. I was a state clinician.”
In that role, he worked with students and teenagers who were incarcerated. After five years there, while he was pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership at Framingham State University, he was hired by Chicopee to help develop an alternative middle school. He then became its principal, and remained in that position for four years.
After that, he transitioned into the Chicopee Comprehensive High School, where he stayed for 10 years before the superintendent asked him to take up the position at the middle school, he said.
“I was placed there in 2019, right when COVID started,” he said. “It was an extremely challenging experience.”
After nearly two decades working for Chicopee, Morrison said he was interested in shifting his career into a “not-so-urban” school district.
“Greenfield seemed like a good fit — maybe just a tier down from how urban Chicopee was,” Morrison said. “(It has) a lot of demographic similarities and challenges.”
Morrison said he’s familiar with crisis intervention techniques and has an ability to stay calm in crisis situations. He is also familiar with mental health and social/emotional challenges students face.
Since starting on Jan. 3, he has been most excited to get to meet Greenfield High School’s students and staff members.
“It’s only so often in life you get that opportunity to meet a new group of people, see how a town does things, and be involved with culture building … and move through some hard stuff,” he said. “I’m excited about that.”
While the first month has mostly been an opportunity for him to observe, Morrison has already worked with other administrators to talk through and begin to implement changes.
First, in the midst of a COVID-19 surge, he opted to cancel midterms, allowing students and teachers time to catch up, work on extra credit and, in general, recover.
“We probably, in all reality, would still be taking midterms with make-ups, if it stayed in place,” Morrison said.
The weekly schedule has also been modified slightly, in recognition of time lost for students and students due to COVID-19. In a typical schedule, students alternate which classes they attend depending on the day. Classes are divided into 90-minute blocks.
“We noticed there were gaps when students saw their teachers,” he said. “There were a good three to five days at times where students wouldn’t be in the classroom. That’s just too long not to be in class with somebody.”
To address that, on one day per week — Fridays — students will see each of their teachers in 50-minute blocks.
“We’re going to be discussing scheduling moving forward for the fall,” he said.
Morrison said he’s had to “temper his enthusiasm” while he gets to know the students and staff, but so far he’s had a “great team” to work with, including Superintendent Christine DeBarge.
“She’s looking and learning just like I am,” he said. “I’m able to bounce things off of her and feel part of a team. That’s always been important to me.”
Since arriving, he’s learned about the various wrap-around services, from grant programming to the collaboration with Greenfield Community College.
“There are a lot of services, but I’d like to see those services all fall under an umbrella, so they are more relatable … instead of in silos,” he noted. “I think we can do better at streamlining.”
Morrison, whose first time in Greenfield was during the interview process, said he looks forward to learning more about Greenfield as he acclimates to the school community.
“I look forward to learning more about our community partners,” he said. “I think becoming part of the culture a little bit here in Greenfield can only benefit me and our students.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne