Mr. McDonnell Reflects on First Year

By Anna Ng ’15 and Emily Tung ’15
It’s been a year since Mr. Michael McDonnell became principal, and the school year is wrapping up. He hasn’t held the position for long, but his opinions on the school have already settled in.
“Midwood is a wonderful place, and it has a special tradition that no other school has in the city,” said Principal McDonnell. “Kids in Brooklyn have been trying to come to Midwood since the 1940s for 74 years, not only for the academics but also to make friends from different ethnic backgrounds,” said Principal McDonnell. “Midwood brings diversity together and newer schools don’t have that tradition.”
Qualifying for principal isn’t easy, nor is becoming one a short process. People who want the job must go through a process called C-30. The C-30 process ensures that all New York City public schools are led by high-quality principals and assistant principals.
“It was a long process becoming principal after Mr. Cohen recommended me,” said Principal McDonnell. “I had to go through two rounds of interviews with students, parents, and superintendents.”
Mr. McDonnell has a long history with Midwood. He took on the role as an earth science teacher in 2000 and later became Assistant Principal of the physical sciences department for 12-13 years. During these years, he ran and took over about 20 science classes. Not only was he employed at Midwood, but he met his wife here as well.
Becoming principal has given more responsibilities to Mr. McDonnell. His daily routine consists of observing classes, contacting and getting back to parents, making phone calls, talking to assistant principals, and dealing with students and teachers. In the nutshell, he is the middle person in any important confrontation and makes sure “everyone plays nice.”
“It’s like turning from a coach of a team to the owner,” says Mr. McDonnell, with a smile.
“I have to manage a school of 4,000 students and 200 teachers, take care of sports, academics, A.P tests—you name it,” said Principal McDonnell.
Respect is one of the three main core values that Midwood upholds. It is a term many students may take for granted, but for Principal McDonnell, it means something a little more than just common sense. His move up to principal earned his more respect than before.
“People do respect me more,” says Principal McDonnell. “It’s the chair, not the person. It’s the respect people acknowledge towards the position.”
It’s true that his position is the highest in the school, but that doesn’t mean he controls every single decision. He still needs agreement among other assistant principals and consent from parents and state office holders in order to pass certain policies (aside from those he can pass in a state of emergency).
“No one likes to be dictated to, including students,” said Principal McDonnell.
Becoming principal has also been a learning experience for Mr. McDonnell. He believes that there is always room for improvement. No matter how high a position he’s at, it is still a learning process.
“There is still a lot to know,” said Principal McDonnell. “It’s a learning process and I have to learn by doing two times the work.”
Principal McDonnell is not exactly sure how long he’ll stay at Midwood.
“10 years is too long,” said Principal McDonnell. “Maybe 7 years later. I’m enjoying myself now, and no one knows about the future.”
In the meantime, the responsibilities and fast paced environment that come along with his job cease to come to a lull.
“Being principal is never boring,” said Principal McDonnell. “I always have something to do. There is so much that goes on in one day that you don’t have time for anything. I don’t even need a cell phone.”
Although a school of over 4,000 students can be susceptible to more problems, Mr. McDonnell feels the need to bring out the best of Midwood. He wants the school to move closer to the 21st century. He is a big believer in technology, so he supports changing the schools’ grading system to Pupil Path, encouraging teachers to post assignments on there for students, and setting up iPads in classrooms.
With the school having undergone these changes, Mr. McDonnell wants to let other schools see Midwood as an example of an environment where teachers are not afraid to take risks and try new things and where students will feel supported by adults. Still, reaching certain goals is easier said than done. In fact, the principal is working with his most difficult challenge.
“Getting everyone in the school to head in the same direction takes a long time,” said Mr. McDonnell.
Building the school’s reputation doesn’t stop at just being recognized by other schools. It is also rewarding for Mr. McDonnell to see the pros of the school affect its students.
“I get to see thousands of motivated students become successful and eventually adults,” said Principal McDonnell. “It’s why we all do the job, not just for the money, but to see you all grow.”
It’s only been a year, but Mr. McDonnell has learned through his position that the school is a wonderful place. He wants to make sure that parents and outsiders see the school as an example of diversity in action.

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