Q&A with the new Christiansburg High Principal Kevin Siers
UPDATED 3:06 p.m.: The name of Kevin Siers’ wife was previously incorrect in this post. The post has been corrected.
Family: Wife, Jane
Current residence: Monroe County, W.Va.
Education: Concord University graduate, master’s degree in school administration from Appalachian State University, doctorate in education from Virginia Tech. Siers was in the National Guard for 15 years and served three active duty tours, the last being 2003 in Iraq.
When the faculty of Christiansburg High School reported for their first day of duty Tuesday, they found themselves under a new leader for the first time in six years.
On June 21, Kevin Siers was appointed by the Montgomery County School Board as the school’s new principal, replacing Rhonda Poindexter, who was reassigned about two weeks earlier to a job in the school system’s central office.
Siers spent the past two years working as the superintendent of Monroe County School in West Virginia, where he was credited with drastically cutting the county’s dropout rate. Prior to that, he served as principal of Bland High School in Bland County, and was an assistant principal and transportation director at Hickory High School in Hickory, N.C.
Siers also served for 15 years in the United States Army Reserves National Guard, including three active duty tours, the last being in Iraq in 2003.
In a recent interview, Siers said his decision to return to school administration was largely based on how much he missed working directly with students and teachers.
“As a superintendent I really felt I was too far removed from students. I really missed the day-to-day interaction with students and teachers, and that’s something you don’t get as a superintendent even when you try to work it into your schedule,” Siers said.
Siers places a high value on that interaction, as well as having a personal connection with students, which he believes plays a key role in the success of each student.
“[You] have to find ways to personalize education for each student because each students comes to school for a different reason, and you’ve got to help them identify that reason, if they don’t already know it, and build on that,” Siers said.
His official first day was July 2, and his first day with students will be Tuesday.
Siers said he is most excited about working in a school that has the energy of Christiansburg High School and the support of the community, as well as working in a school with a “great tradition of athletics.”
Q: What attracted you to Christiansburg High School?
A: I’ve always had an interest in working in Montgomery County. It seems to be a really solid system. It’s one people are trying to get into and not many are trying to get out of, which says a lot about the quality of the school system here. Christiansburg High School specifically just has a great tradition of athletics, and I enjoy attending and getting to participate in all the athletic success that can be held at the high school level.
Q: What made you decide to return to working in a school as opposed to being a superintendent?
A: As a superintendent, I really felt I was too far removed from students. I really missed the day-to-day interaction with students and teachers, and that’s something you don’t get as a superintendent even when you try to work it into your schedule, it never seems to work out. … The principalship just offers that. It allows you to influence things as a leader, but also to keep your finger on the pulse of education.
Q: What do you think the keys to success are in public education today?
A: You’ve got to be very data focused. You have to have strong interpersonal skills. You’ve got to have strong knowledge of various content areas as a school leader. You also have to find ways to personalize education for each student because each student comes to school for a different reason, and you’ve got to help them identify that reason, if they don’t already know it, and build on that.
Q: What’s your personal philosophy as to the principal’s role in school discipline?
A: The principal needs to make sure that discipline practices are implemented consistently across the student body, across all the grade levels. They also need to make sure the discipline policy is progressive and that students actually learn something from the consequences that are applied and, ideally, you would see a decrease in behaviors as the students go through high school. You would see less and less of the same types of behavior because they should be learning from previous behaviors and consequences that were applied.
Q: How closely were you following the most recent budget issues in Montgomery County?
A: I really didn’t follow it. I can speak to what I see here, and I realize there were budget issues and cuts were made, but really when you compare us to the outlying rural counties around Montgomery County, this county has held up well and been able to keep the number of staff that they have in place.
Q: What challenges do you think there are for an administrator from outside of the county stepping into a situation like this?
A: The schools in Montgomery County are larger than what you typically find in Southwest Virginia and across the border in West Virginia. So that would be a challenge. You’d have to think more globally about a larger student population and a more diverse student population.
Q: One achievement you were very well known for in Monroe County was severely cutting the dropout rate. How did you do that?
A: We built a very comprehensive plan to try to personalize the education experience for each student, but first off, we revamped the dropout policy. In West Virginia, a student could drop out at 16, it’s not like in Virginia where they have to stay in school until they’re 18. In Monroe County, a student could simply pick up the phone, call the counselor and say, ‘I quit’ and they were withdrawn from school. We strengthened the policy to require the drop process to be a three-day process, and during that time they would have to meet with a guidance counselor, principal and the superintendent. Each one of us would then discuss options the student would have in an effort to keep them in school.
We also developed a mentoring program for at-risk students, where one teacher or one community leader would mentor a student with the overriding goal of trying to make school a positive experience. My theory is if you can find one thing that links that student to the school, you can keep the student in school until they graduate. If you can find one area that they feel passionate about or that they enjoy or give them one reason to come to school, they may come to school and do what they have to in English and math in order to get to take auto mechanics. But you’ve really got to work with the students on a one-on-one basis to find out what will drive them to graduate. We implemented a series of clubs because we didn’t have enough mentors to do one-on-one mentoring for every student who was at risk, so we also established finish line clubs which dealt with students who were at risk, but maybe not the most extreme cases and those finish line clubs addressed things like leadership skills, tying to the community, tying them to the schools.
We also expanded our credit-recovery program to where it wasn’t just an after-school program … to where it was a program they could do during the day, during their lunch break, whenever we could get them into an online credit recovery class. … Christiansburg has a very good program already in place, and a lot of students have been served by it.
Q: What are you most excited about with your new job?
A: I’m just excited about the energy of the school. The energy of the community. There seems to be a lot of people who have a vested interest in Christiansburg High School, and the amount of community volunteers and community money that is put into this school to make it a success is not something I’ve encountered in any of my previous jobs in education.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
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