It was a busy first day for Matthew Geary, the new principal at , earlier this week.
Geary, who lives in Southington with his wife and two young children, said he arrived at the high school shortly after 6 a.m. on Monday, and flew through a first day that involved a lot of walking around the school greeting staff and students and familiarizing himself to his new surroundings, a number of classroom visits, two meetings at the central office on North School Street, and then a Board of Education meeting that night to present a report on the . He didn't get done that evening until well after 9 p.m.
Geary, 33, who served as principal of Watertown High since 2007 before joining Manchester High, said those type of hours are usually par for the course as a principal, so he's not complaining.
"These are busy jobs," he said.
But it is precisely Geary's youth, energy and enthusiasm - as well as the solid results he produced at Watertown High during his tenure - that made him such an ideal candidate for the Manchester High position, according to Interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel.
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"I think what we're interested in is his ability to help the school identify a long-term school improvement plan," Kisiel said, noting that Geary had great success developing and implementing such a plan at Watertown High.
Kisiel said the school district also expects Geary to develop a plan to reconfigure the administrative staff at Manchester High, based on education reform proposals expected to be passed by the legislature this year, as well as steps to improve the overall climate at Manchester High.
"Part of his improvement plan has to address school climate," Kisiel said.
School climate was a subject that Geary continually returned to again and again when he sat down for an interview with Patch towards the end of his first day at the high school Monday.
"I think what was most telling to me was meeting with students here where they said 'we're disappointed about our image in the community. When we say we go to Manchester High we want to be proud of that,'" Geary said Monday. "This school is filled with really articulate, bright, polite kids."
Many in town would say that Geary is stepping into an unenviable position as the new leader of the town's only public high school, due largely to the circumstances surrounding the removal of his predecessor Kevin O'Donnell.
Former Superintendent Kathleen Ouellette on Jan. 7, 2011, following several high profile incidents at the high school, including that broke out in the school's hallways in late December of 2010 that resulted in the arrest of almost 20 students and received widespread media attention. O'Donnell with the school board last fall, while Ouellette left to accept the superintendent position for the Waterbury public school district. served as interim principal of Manchester High from February of 2011 to last week.
When asked about his perception of Manchester High prior to accepting the job as principal, Geary said he was vaguely familiar with the news reports, but reserved passing judgement on the school based solely on what was reported in the media. He said all schools struggle with disciplinary problems.
"Without sort of being here and knowing exactly what happened, that didn't really play a huge role in my decision," he said. "Certainly there will be challenges around school climate and boosting morale and I think projecting a positive image of the school to the community. I think that's important to kids. I think kids want to be proud of the school they attend. We don't want the image out there to be that day last year."
Geary said it was precisely Manchester High's diversity and sense of a challenge in helping to re-establish the school and return it to prominence that attracted him to the position in the first place. Manchester High has about 1,900 students, compared to about 1,000 at Watertown High.
"That sort of diverse community was a big thing for me. There's not a ton of diversity in Watertown, and I grew up in Waterbury. I went to public school, so for me the opportunity to come work in a bigger school in a diverse community was great," Geary said. "Regardless of what happened here in the past, we're going to move forward."