The Maverick Principal — Context

Mark Sonnemann
Aug 2, 2018 · 4 min read

I’ll start this series with a note about the title, and potentially a word about what this post will hopefully become over time…..

The title may seem provocative, and it might also be an accurate description of my leadership at times, but I want to put it into context. At the end of the last school year, I was moved to a new school, actually the one you can see in the photo. The school is named St. Martha Catholic School and its teams are called the “Mavericks”.

Side note: even if it were strictly and literally true, it is only the second coolest title in education. The first would be held by Abe Moore and his:

St. Martha is a school of about 400 kids from grades K-8. It serves a community that includes proud military families (CFB Kingston and the Royal Military College are both down the road), professional two-parent families, rural families, island families (Kingston is in the 1000 islands!), to name just a few. The school sits just on the other side of the LaSalle Causeway, which is the only direct link between downtown Kingston and the east end of the city where the school sits.

By P199 — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11173695

The school’s socio-economic make-up is somewhat mixed, with families at both ends of the spectrum (and many in the middle). There are the typical range of special needs, and a significant number of students on the autism spectrum.

The parents of the community are very supportive and very vocal — they advocate strongly for their children. The staff is generally very experienced and many have been at the school for most (and some all) of their careers. Many live in the neighbourhood and many of their children are either currently attending, or have attended the school.

Built in the late 90’s, the school featured a music room and a home economics room and a performing arts space, along with the traditional elements of class and meeting rooms and a computer lab. At the time, it was the newest school in the east end of the city and its enrolment was over 500 students. Now, all of those specialty rooms are gone, divided up into more traditional classroom spaces.

In the last five years, the local public school board has built a school beside St. Martha that offers french-immersion programs and is much larger (I believe over 700 students consolidated from two older schools). Enrolment at St. Martha is down significantly, and it is no longer the shiniest or newest school in the area.

This coming year will be the first that St. Martha has not had a Vice-Principal — I will be the first solo administrator in the history of the school. It has been a challenging last few years for the school. There have been pressures and stresses around the loss of staff due to numbers, the increasing needs of students, the sometimes contentious relationships with parents, and around student behaviour. There have also been instructional challenges — the staff is experienced and in some cases set and comfortable in their ways, and this has made whole school movement slow and somewhat inconsistent.

From an administrative perspective (at least in the principal group), this was not an assignment that anyone was asking for, and one that some actively campaigned ‘not’ to get.

I was shocked when I was told I was moving to St. Martha. Honestly, only having been at my previous school for 3 years, I did not believe that a move was on the table, and my supervisory officer did not indicate to me that I was even being considered.

But here I am.

I have been going into work twice a week since school ended to try and get my head around the current school schedules and organization and to think about a plan for next year. I have talked with my new supervisor, the former principal, and with many current staff to take in as much as I can about the culture and the people at St. Martha. I have reached out to my professional colleagues and to my virtual professional networks (TG2!) seeking feedback and insight.

September is coming quickly.

This is, I think, the most challenging administrative role that I have ever taken on. There are cultural, pedagogical, behavioural, relational, and physical elements of the school that need to change — but where does one start? How much does one push? How does one avoid being painted into a corner by tradition or obstinacy or ignorance? Where does one draw the line between compromise and collaboration and consultation and leadership?

This is the journey that I am on, and it is my intention to reflect on it through these blogs. Part thinking out loud, part looking for feedback, part confessional, it is my hope that they will help me to be the leader that the community needs by furthering my own learning — both in my approach to leadership and my ability to create learning spaces and opportunities and cultures for kids.

Mark Sonnemann

Written by

Dad, Husband, Learner, Catholic Principal. I never stop wondering, questioning, and imagining.

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