Q&A: Bevan reflects on eventful first year as principal
June 19, 2021
How have you enjoyed your first year back at Algonquin?
“I am really happy I made the switch. I was very happy at my former school, and I still maintain a lot of friendships there. I look forward to seeing those folks when the pandemic restrictions are lifted, which they almost are. Making the change was something I had to give a lot of thought to because I was leaving a place I really enjoyed being at, and I think they enjoyed having me be their principal, but I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to return to Algonquin. I’ve really always had a place in my heart [for Algonquin], and I was right. I think it was the right decision for me personally and for my family. I get to see them more, and my commute is a lot shorter.”
What have been the highlights of this year for you?
“That we got through the toughest year of education and the careers of any of the people in the building. And I think we did it with good humor and by still keeping in mind the needs of the students. There were a lot of hard times, but I think the staff really rose to the occasion. And I think students did too. They really did all the things we asked them, even though they were inconvenient and sometimes uncomfortable. And so I look back and I think the highlights are making small victories. So for example, the move from one-directional hallways to two-directional hallways was a tiny little victory that worked fine. And then the move from hybrid into full in-person worked out great. I actually think that one thing kids probably think was the most significant change and the most successful one was having lunch outdoors… I hadn’t thought through exactly how much it would appeal to [kids], and it was a really terrific outcome and something we’re gonna look to hold onto.”
What have been the biggest struggles for you this year?
“Initially, in the fall, the struggles were that our staff really wanted very concrete answers to questions that were coming at us at a rate that was hard to keep up with. I think our ability to, with great certainty, make people feel at ease about returning to school was an impossibility. There was no way to ensure that school would be academically rigorous and as successful as it usually was inside of all of these restrictions, and we had a lot of people who were worried about their own safety. We were just going on the advice of our medical advisory team who had done a really good job, and nearly all of those decisions turned out to be well-informed and the right ones. In retrospect, we did a really good job, but in the moment when we were developing those restrictions and responding to state changes in guidelines, we were just using our best guess.”
“There were [also] a lot of people who were convinced that we wouldn’t keep school open for any significant amount of time and that sports were not going to be able to be done safely. [It] turned out that they were wrong… We didn’t miss a single day of school, and it’s hard to believe that that was the case. I kind of decided that if we stayed open through Thanksgiving, that would have felt like a victory because the holidays and the holiday travel were going to really jeopardize school. It turned out that that was not the case.”
I think teenagers, their brains, how they’re wired are just not well suited to the amount of online learning that was required”
— Principal Sean Bevan
What would you describe as the biggest challenges for the school community this year?
“I think teenagers, their brains, how they’re wired are just not well suited to the amount of online learning that was required. They’re just not. They’re social in nature. They like seeing each other, they like seeing and hearing from their teachers. It requires so much independence to work online. So I think the amount of academic rigor we could apply in a virtual environment or in a hybrid environment was really a challenge because [students’] brains were not wired [for it].”
What would you describe as your biggest triumphs this year?
“I found that our graduation ceremony, which we had to plan and replan and replan again based on shifting guidelines from the state, was well-received by the community. The students seemed to enjoy it. It seemed celebratory, and it went off without a great deal of difficulty. That felt like a real moment to celebrate because our seniors had lost a lot… All the things we did to replace those things were appreciated, but they don’t truly replace those things. So when we were able to do a proper graduation, it was almost entirely identical to previous years’ graduations, it was well-received and much-appreciated. And that felt like a real success for me and my staff.”
What would you say were the biggest triumphs for the school community this year?
“I think we got through the hardest period of time as a school community, as a region, as a state and as a country. And there were a lot of people who suffered, yet we were able to find things to enjoy. There are things that people did to keep each other happy and healthy. I think things like mask-wearing were selfless acts that the whole country more or less undertook without too much complaining. And it kept, I think, a lot of people safe and healthy. I think it’s a kind of giant community success that we were able to keep school open the way we did. I’ve been terribly impressed by how much students have played by all these many rules. Like if you were to have told me two years ago that we’d be asking American high school students to wear masks for a year straight, walk in one-directional hallways, log on to computer screens to learn math and science and English, I just would’ve thought that we don’t have the norms for that; we don’t have the capacity for that. And I was wrong. I think our teenagers really rose to the occasion, and I’ve been really impressed by that.”
What are you most looking forward to next year?
“I’m looking forward to getting to know kids more. One of the hallmarks of my leadership in the past has been getting to know students, their names and their siblings and seeing them at performances, art shows and athletic events. That was really hard to do when we didn’t see them at all on Mondays and when the year started late. When I did see them, [they were] wearing masks at all times, so there were real limitations on my ability to use my best tool, which is to get to know students, what their needs are, what makes them happy and what they’re concerned about. Not having that tool in my toolbox was a real challenge; I look forward to getting that back next year.”
Not having that tool in my toolbox was a real challenge; I look forward to getting that back next year”
— Principal Sean Bevan
Are there any new initiatives or changes you would like to start/make next year?
“The schedule is definitely an area that we’re focusing closely on. We’ve had to have multiple schedule iterations because of the demands from COVID-19. We have two options now: One that we will open the school with that is quite a bit different than what we’ve had in the past. … There’s a rotation in it that allows classes to meet in different portions of the day… so you won’t have the same class early in the morning, day by day by day. And that’s a real challenge if you’re a student who isn’t a morning person.”
If you had to describe this year in a couple of words, what would they be?
“Oh boy. I’d say challenging, exhilarating and sometimes exhausting.”
What are you planning to do this summer, either professionally or personally?
“I’ll start with what I’m not doing this summer because it’s relevant. We spent a lot of time last summer counting desks in rooms, measuring desk space between desks to the very inch and developing schedule after schedule to find out the ones that would work. I’m not going to have to do all that work, which is going to be really nice. I’m going to take some time to spend some time with my family. We’ll do some local travel around Massachusetts and in New England, and they’ll see my family in New York. I think I’m just going to relax a fair amount. [I’d also like to] spend time in the summer [reviewing] our testing data to see what our trendlines are.”
“[I’d also like to] just recharge my battery. I work a lot of long hours and that’s not a complaint; I like it. [But in summer,] I’ll be able to work shorter days and still get a lot done. It’s quiet, and it’s enjoyable work. So this summer will be a fun one.”