The school year is coming to an end and it is time to say goodbye to a most beloved principal. After serving public schools for 38 years, 17 of which were as principal at Briarcliff Middle School, Susan Howard is retiring. We caught up with her to find out all about her most memorable moments, what advice she has for students and teachers and a particularly funny incident that happened to her at the school.
How long have you been a principal at the school, and what have you done prior to your role? This is my 17th year as principal at Briarcliff Middle School. Before arriving at Briarcliff, I was a middle school teacher, a professional development coach, and an assistant principal. This is my 38th year serving in New York public schools.
What are some memorable moments from your career at the school? I have so many wonderful memories from BMS. I am privileged to see students in classrooms, and I am so proud of the insightful things they share in discussions, so impressed by the work they present. I also get a front row seat to amazing lessons; it almost makes me wish I were a middle school student again.
I fondly recall the excitement of many of our special events. We held our first Blue Ribbon celebration, which eventually morphed into our annual Wellness Day and continues to be a tradition here. We have had lots of interesting school spirit events over the years: Souper Bowl food drives, pajama days, super hero days and some very memorable Halloweens – I love to see our staff and students dress up and bring playfulness into the day. Our Snowflake Challenge added some fun last year when we were in small cohorts due to the safety guidelines. I never expected students to make so many paper snowflakes! Then, I enjoyed serving hot cocoa to the winning classrooms.
Over time, we did some terrific professional work, including the shift to becoming a 1:1 to school with students having their own devices. Our teachers have always been exceptional, but they have really transformed classrooms using their training around active learning infused with technology. Several years ago, I worked with the Briarcliff Manor Education Foundation to create a digital music lab and worked with music teachers to develop the Exploring Music program. I feel so very fortunate to have shared these experiences with students and colleagues alike. I have enough good memories to fill a book!
What makes Briarcliff Manor School District special? I am continually struck by the wonderful partnerships we have with families in Briarcliff. Although middle school can be a challenge, I always know that I can connect with families to best support children. I am also very grateful to my colleagues and fellow administrators here in Briarcliff. They have shared my journey and made it all the more meaningful.
Can you share a funny incident that happened? I was covering a class for an absent teacher, and we had time left in the period after students completed their assignments. I took one student to the side and gave him some directions to help me pull off a “magic trick.” Using verbal cues, we made it look like the student was able to read my mind. The rest of the class had a good time trying to figure out how we did it. They eventually did, but they had some pretty wild and funny guesses before the solution was found.
Do you have any advice to offer to the person replacing you? I have complete confidence in Amy Gladstone. We have had lots of opportunities to collaborate and she has been an amazing partner in leading the middle school. I know she is dedicated to the BMS community and she is highly capable of supporting students, families and faculty. My best advice to any school administrator is to love what you do – love the people and love the work. Then you can’t go wrong!
What are your plans for retirement? I have lots of interests and ideas, but no solid plans beyond some summer travel and time with family at this point. I like to quote Emily Dickenson and say, “I dwell in possibility.” I feel certain that some engaging project will fall in place before long.
If you can pass any wisdom to students and/or teachers at the school, what would it be? Each person has the ability to impact the world around them, even in small ways. Be kind to others and make the best of every situation. Lead by example.
What is your favorite quote? “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Ghandi.