POWNAL, Vt. -- It was not by accident that after 27 years in education, Todd Phillips’ newest position as principal of Pownal Elementary is in one of the smallest schools he has been a part of.
"I’m big on relationships. I try to get to know every student’s name and get to know something about them," Phillips said in a recent interview.
"This building is welcoming to the community, and it is really a community base to involve the community in all of our activities that we do here and I want it to remain that way," Phillips said. "I was at a district where everything was all locked doors. You had to buzz to get in through the main door ... just to have that small community feeling is [one] thing that attracted me here."
Phillips, who began in Pownal at the start of August, came from Raleigh, N.C., where he was an assistant principal last year. Other administrative experience on his resume includes five years as principal of an arts magnet school in Idaho that had more than 700 students and three years as an elementary principal of three schools in a Pennsylvania school district with 800 students. He also has 17 years of teaching experience in grades 2, 3, 4, and 5 at schools in Arizona and Nebraska.
His experience as a teacher and administrator was one of the qualifications the school district sought when searching for Joy Kitchell’s replacement at the end of last school year. Phillips said his
"I thought that was an important base to move into administration, so I could really get to know the different grade levels," he said. "You can’t have teachers saying you really don’t know what it’s like teaching third grade or fourth grade or fifth grade, so that’s why I wanted to teach multiple grade levels, and I did and I think it really prepared me to have a great conversation with teachers."
Phillips, who grew up in Pennsylvania near the Poconos, was attracted to Pownal because he appreciated the district’s desire to attract a principal with experience in administration and teaching, as well as the district’s priority of involving technology in classrooms.
"I’m an advocate for technology. I think SMART Boards (interactive whiteboards) in classrooms are engaging for students and it’s all about engagement now. We really need to make sure that the students are on task and involved, and if we can engage students with the use of technology let’s use it," Phillips said.
While Pownal annually puts aside money for technology upgrades, Phillips will be taking a look at the existing budget to find if there is more that can be spent to increase technology in the school.
"It’s really taking a look at the budget and making [technology] a priority. Keeping the one-to-one [computers already incorporated in grades three through six], looking at SMART Boards, and I would like to see iPads," he said.
While he will push for increased use of technology in rooms, Phillips said he is not about to force it. "A goal of mine isn’t to get a SMART Board into every classroom. A goal of mine is to at first get them for the teachers that are going to use them, the teachers that want to be trained, the teachers that are starving for that type of technology. Let’s get those classrooms SMART Boards first and then let that blossom."
In addition to technology, Phillips said he will fight to keep the arts prevalent.
"Many schools around the country, because of the budget crisis, they are cutting the arts and music. I want to make sure that stays in place. It’s so important for students, [it allows them to become] better problem-solvers [and] more creative," he said.
Phillips described himself as a visible principal both in classes, outside on the playground and after school with parents. "I really like to be out at dismissal and seeing parents coming to pick up their kids and saying, ‘hi.’ "
Outside of school, Phillips said he enjoys the outdoors, hiking and skiing. It was skiing that brought Phillips to Vermont for the first time when he was in high school and used to visit Killington. Now he’s looking forward to hitting some of the slopes closer to the southwest corner of the state.