Salem High School principal John Hall expects great things from his school. The standard of excellence at Salem High School is part of a longstanding culture–one that has been instilled in its students and staff for over 30 years.
Hall has been an administrator in the Salem High School building for 33 years, he said, and has been acting as principal since 1987. At the end of the school year, he will accept a new challenge: retirement. Hall is understandably a little worried about how he will transition.
“I’ve never not worked since I was 14 years old,” he said. “I’m apprehensive about that.”
But he’s confident that whoever steps up to fill his role will have an easy time maintaining the culture already at Salem High School. (It was announced Wednesday, Feb. 27, that assistant principal Scott Habeeb will become principal effective July 1, 2013.)
“The culture of the building is strong enough, between the staff and the students,” Hall said.
And Hall is personally responsible for much of that strength.
“I’ve had a hand in recommending every [staff member] in the building except one—Ray Moore [one of SHS's English teachers] who came over from Andrew Lewis High School,” Hall said. “I can also observe that the average age of the staff has gone down considerably.” He says many of his teachers are in their upper 20s.
“That’s a huge advantage because you get a lot of energy, as long as you can keep your culture,” he said.
Hall is proud of his work to create that culture by making changes to the curriculum that came from Andrew Lewis High School. He recalls a time he spoke directly with Dr. Ronald E. Carrier, former president at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. One of Hall’s students was not accepted to JMU—the student was the editor of the school newspaper, which had just won a national award.
During their conversation, Carrier told Hall that the Salem senior had been rejected because Salem High School students generally only have two college level courses under their belts by the time they’re ready to enter college.
Hall guaranteed Carrier that for the next school year, Salem High School would offer five college level courses.
“And we did,” he said.
Additionally, Carrier accepted the SHS senior on the spot after having spoken with Hall.
Two years after adding several new college level courses, Salem High School became a member of International Baccalaureate (IB)–and the second school in Virginia to do so, according to Hall. Almost immediately after that, they began teaching dual enrollment courses in conjunction with Virginia Western Community College, Hall said.
Salem High School assumed “very aggressive” college level course offerings in order “to satisfy schools that require college level courses,” Hall said. This push for higher level education opportunities at the school remains part of Hall’s high standard of excellence and the culture at Salem High School. That culture is very clearly one of the most important things to Hall. As principal, he has cultivated a positive and supportive environment for his students and staff.
“I’m not worried about what other high schools have, but I know that climate is here,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being good, and bragging modestly.” And he and his staff are sure to tell their students when they’re doing well–at any opportunity. Hall wants his students to feel pride in their accomplishments. After all, he does!
“I have to be proud of staying this long. I really do,” Hall said. “It never occurred to me I’d retire.”
As for what’s on his plate next, Hall said he hadn’t “carved that one out yet.” He already does a lot of volunteer work with his church—and he expects to do even more with his free time.
“Some of this I’ll have to feel out a little,” Hall said. He and his wife Linda, a fifth-grade teacher at South Salem Elementary School who will also be retiring at the end of the year, plan to travel. “Linda has a bucket list of places to see,” Hall said.
“Mr. Hall will be participating in our Retirement: Extended Work Incentive Program (REWIP) so that his successor and the division will have ongoing access to Mr. Hall’s proven experience and expertise,” said Mike Stevens, Director of Communications for the City of Salem. The program is in place as a way to help with the transition to retirement—and to help the employees get accustomed to downsizing in salary, according to Hall. Retiring administrators work 25 days a year for five years.
Assistant principal Scott Habeeb will take the reins at Salem High School in the new school year. Read more about his appointment here.