By Rich Rosentreter
New L.P. Quinn Elementary School Principal Julia Aubrey took over the reins at the school in early July, and now that the first semester has passed, she has settled into her position. The Free Press recently met with her to discuss how the job has been going to date.
“So far it has been wonderful. Everybody’s been very welcoming and open and ready to share what’s been tradition and maybe what they would like to be changed or considered for change,” Aubrey said, who reflected on the day when she first learned she landed the Tupper Lake school post, which came through a telephone call from Superintendent Seth McGowan.
“I got the phone call from Mr. McGowan. It was kind of a disbelief type of phone call. I was really surprised and really excited at the same time,” Aubrey said with a smile on her face. “I was speechless to be honest and thank goodness he sort of guided me through the conversation. I wasn’t quite sure how to react. But that is how he has been. He’s provided good guidance of bringing me through the process of getting to know the school.”
When she received the news that she was selected to replace Carolyn Merrihew, who had retired earlier in the year after more than three decades working in the school district, it was a monumental day in Aubrey’s career. She started her career in education at the Brushton-Moira Central School District and had worked there for 13 years, primarily at the elementary school level.
“I had taught there and performed some administrative roles or duties in some capacity,” Aubrey said, adding that although she had administrative experience, she did not perform those functions on a full-time position basis and was still mainly a classroom teacher when Tupper Lake gave her an opportunity. “It was my first big leap.”
But it was a leap that came fairly naturally for Aubrey, who said that she believes her family values and emphasis on family-oriented behavior helped her get the job.
“I still think back to my interview, and still think about the process,” she said. “I am a huge family person and I think that is how this school here works, as a family.”
Aubrey, who is married and has two sons, said that during the interview process, which spanned several months, she was able to effectively communicate her core values of family.
“I think that idea of having a family and having that calmness, and the parental aspects of my life came through,” she said, adding that her career experience working in different elementary school grade levels was also a major contributing factor.
Off to school
Being chosen as the new L.P. Quinn principal was the beginning, but Aubrey still had to prepare for the start of school in September. Like many teachers who were getting ready, she began her preparations over the summer – and it was just like her going to school to learn.
“It was school for me. Even as a teacher I spent a lot of my summers going into the school during the day because I was always thinking about the next step, and I saw some of the teachers here doing the same thing,” Aubrey said.
But she was not the only new member of the L.P. Quinn school family, as there were new employees working in the main office and would be working closely with the new principal. The family values Aubrey said she treasures became an asset and came shining though even before school started as she got together with her new staff.
“We wanted to leave things alone, but make them our own at the same time,” she said. “We spent a lot of time getting to know each other, and also looking at things that were left behind for us to work from. So we were looking at the past and looking toward the future at the same time. It was a fun process to get to know the school with two natives of Tupper Lake, but also new to the school.”
“We are bringing each other along. It was nice,” Aubrey explained. “We would have lunches together and sit and talk about what was going on and what we would perceive happening, and our feelings of what had happened in the past and we tried to merge it all together. They’ve been a great source of support. We kind of lean on each other when one of us gets stressed. It’s a nice dynamic that we have with each other already.” First day of school
Aubrey was asked to remember the first day of school in September, and she was quick to say that she was nervous, as probably were the hundreds of children coming to school to meet a new principal. She described the toughest part of the day – and not surprisingly, it had a connection to family.
“It was nerve-wracking for me because I came from a small school that I worked at for a very long time and in a community whereI lived. I grew up in Brushton and I taught at Brushton, and I knew everyone,” she said, “But on the first day here, the kids were coming in, and the tough part was that I didn’t know their names. I didn’t know their histories and connections. For me that was unsettling because that is a big part of school, when somebody knows your name and you know each other. It was hard to see these happy faces coming back to school and not be able to say their names.”
Aubrey said that she was out on the sidewalk in front of the school as the buses rolled in, and many of the kids were quick to say “Hey, you’re the new principal!” She pointed to this as a valuable learning experience for the youngsters.
“That was also a great lesson for the kids,” she explained. “They may recognize that when they go out in the world, they may not know everybody. They will have to go up to somebody and introduce themselves to someone. So they actually gained a skill out of the process.”
Aubrey said she is getting more familiar with the student’s names, but “there are still a lot of names left to learn,” adding that the student population at the elementary school is just below 500 students, and that is “a lot of names for me to learn.”
“But I am working real hard at it and the kids are great at saying ‘don’t forget what my name is.’ They remind me, somehow or someway that we talked before, so that is nice,” she said.
Aubrey may not be teaching anymore, but her role has switched to contain an increased level of responsibility. She discussed some of the challenges of her job and said the faculty and staff at the school have been helpful in making the school year run with success.
“It was different not being the teacher guiding a class. Instead I was leading a whole building through a first day. I was used to having my own pocket of students and showing them new procedures, now they were doing the procedures and I was there just to support them and make sure each teacher’s day went smoothly,” she said.
“Overall, my first day was great. The teachers here really had a great start. They kicked off the school year in a true professional way,” Aubrey said. “They just handle things so smoothly and work as a nice team and that helps makes it great for me as a first-year principal.”
“I’m still getting to know everybody and the dynamics of the teachers in the school and all the relationships,” she said. “As a teacher I told the kids to let the past be in the past, but with the past you still have to know what the past is to move forward. Having teachers come in and talk about how we used to do things and how we need to do this in the future is important. Part of the challenge is putting all the pieces together to make it all fit nicely and let things move along.”
“I believe the students should not feel like there is a change. The school should still be their school, I don’t want to pull the rug out from under their feet and have them stumble and fall. Everything is going well and we want to keep things going well.” So far, Aubrey said the job as L.P. Quinn principal is one that brings her pride and a sense of doing a job that matters.
“It’s been extremely rewarding. When I first was encouraged to become an administrator, I was hesitant and it took me a few years to realize that I should do this,” she said, as she remembered some words of wisdom from a fellow administrator in Brushton. “They told me, ‘You know, you won’t be just touching the lives of 20 students, you’ll touch the lives of hundreds of students in a year.’”
“I feel like that is where I am at. I’m at the realization that I don’t have 20 kids to worry about. I worry about all of them,” she said. “I have my administrative duties that keep me at my desk, but I do try to be in the lunch room two or three times through the course of the lunch period time. I try to peak my head into the classrooms at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon so the students constantly know that I might be checking on what is going on.”
“Teachers just know that it is just me saying hello and to see that everyone is feeling good.”
And the feeling at the L.P. Quinn continues to be that of one big family – one that Aubrey said she feels honored to be a member.
By Rich Rosentreter