50th Edition, News

Welch (2000-2005)

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

From the June 2005 issue of Denebola:

‘If you had told me I was going to be a high school principal some day, I would have said you’ve got to be crazy,’ [Mike Welch said].
He could not deny, however, his interest in assisting youth. ‘I love working with kids,’ he stated simply with a broad smile.
Welch was a teacher long before he came to Newton South, and it is a part of his past that he feels is easy for many people in the Newton community to forget. As a physics teacher at Belmont High School, Welch was voted best teacher by the students and in 1998 was a semi-finalist for Teacher of the Year in Massachusetts.
‘I’m more proud of that than a lot of other things I’ve done,’ he said.
In the spring of 2000, after being a housemaster at Newton North for about two and a half years, Welch received a very unexpected call. It was Superintendent Jeffrey Young on the phone with a proposition. ‘He called and said, “How would you like to be principal at Newton South?” ‘And I thought, What is wrong with you? Why are you calling me?’ Welch laughed at his initially dubious response.
* * *
‘I don’t want to say that things were broken when I got here because they weren’t. I think the school, and I still think the school, doesn’t do as well as I’d like in terms of serving all kids well,’ Welch said of a challenge he has faced throughout his time here. He found himself wanting to change the very culture of the school entirely.
He was against the attitude that distanced school administrators from students: ‘I want people out in the hallways, and I want people interacting with kids. But that isn’t the way this place operates. It operates like a little college.’
In the first months and years of his principalship, Welch also dealt with a bomb scare, a senior class tradition that got out of hand, and issues around parking. ‘I still have the rocks [seniors] threw through my windows…’
He holds up a Ziplock bag with several large rocks inside and says they pelted his old office for his first three years at South. ‘In a way, it’s a kind of badge of honor,’ Welch says, smiling.
More importantly, he had to try to close the gap between adults and students. ‘I felt that kids were disconnected from school,’ he admitted, thinking of the progress South has made in that respect.
* * *
…while he may be more strict than many in the South community perceive, he is also better able to let loose when away from work. ‘I’m a lot more fun than I can show. Being a principal means you can’t always be exactly who you are. You have to have some level of moral authority and presence,’ Welch said.
He expressed how uncomfortable it sometimes is for him to know that he must carry himself as a dignitary much of the time. Welch, with his healthy sense of humor, downplays the presumed superiority of a principal: ‘Who am I? I’m just a guy who was a teacher who now suddenly is calling the shots here. I’m no better than any teacher in this building…’
‘This principal job was a lot harder than [the military pattern of decision-making].’

The community itself proved to be one in Welch had to compromise his favored style of taking quick action and making bold decisions. ‘In Newton, it’s a lot of lobbying and arguing your point, trying to change decisions that have been made. I realized you had to go around and around, and talk and talk and talk, to make sure everybody is aware of what you’re thinking. And I found that frustrating, but that’s just the way it is.’

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