By Christopher Weigl, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – A thin man with combed brown hair and an open, approachable demeanor, Principal Thomas Mead walks the halls of Northborough-Southborough's Algonquin Regional High School with obvious pride. As he navigated a maze of hallways, he recounted the school's many strengths: the competitive business program, champion soccer and gymnastics teams, the stellar music program, the Tiny Tomahawks early development class, the 21 offered AP courses in a variety of subjects, an impressive graduation rate of over 98 percent, and much more. He talked excitedly, stopping only briefly to greet passing students, and his contagious ebullience sounded like that of a proud father boasting of his kids” accomplishments.
Mead's path to becoming principal has been nearly as winding as Algonquin's halls. He decided upon teaching with both an armed services and a business background. Born in Dunkirk, N. Y., he attended the Naval Academy in 1975 and, after graduating, spent three years at sea before settling in Washington. DC. Not content to be a career sailor, Mead went back to school for a master's degree in business from American University in 1982 and married his wife, Elaine, in 1979. With his new degree in hand, he went on to work for two and a half years at Raytheon in the Missile Systems Division and then six years at Digital Equipment Corporation, first in the Management Sciences Division in Stow and later the Logistics group in Andover.
At about this time, Mead began working with an adult education program in Lawrence, which planted the seed “to move onto yet another career path.” With the help of Digital's Engineers into Education, Mead obtained a master's in education from UMass-Lowell and began teaching math and science at Greater Lawrence Vocational School. After four years there and another 11 at Andover High School, seven of which as the assistant principal, Mead applied for the principal position at Algonquin, which he began in the fall of 2009.
While an unconventional introduction to the world of teaching, Mead believes his past has been beneficial to his role as principal. Serving in the Navy tempers his approach to the job.
“The very concept and idea of a ship getting underway and going on a cruise,” he said, “is somewhat analogous to the school year starting in September and not really coming back until June.”
Both journeys necessitate preparation, and yet unforeseen problems will always surface; the best one can hope is for “being operational and moving an organization along.”
His experience at Digital, on the other hand, has helped him understand “organizational structure” and has driven Algonquin's push toward (science, technology, Engineering, Math (STEM). Most notably, with the cooperation of local businesses, a government grant called Innovation Schools, and the School Committee, Mead has been working on a pilot program to encourage 24/7 learning and internships for a select number of interested students.
“We can's exist in isolation,” he said, “We can's be closed down; we have to be open to our community, and that includes businesses and organizations.”
Being able to forge these partnerships and alliances will result in the “more rounded education of our students.”
On the topic of what a typical day in of a high school principal is like, Mead joked about Harry Truman's desk placard, “The Buck Stops Here.” He is undeniably in a position of power, yet likes to work in collaboration with other teachers and administrators whenever possible and tries to “push decisions down into the organization when people are ready to make them.”
The day-to-day work is actually quite unpredictable, and Mead enjoys “the random variableness of every day, that you never know what's going to happen. Many times it's good things, sometimes it's more challenging things.”
Ultimately, it's clear that Mead takes great pride in his work and leads with a light touch. As an administrator, he occasionally misses the hands-on interpersonal work that teachers enjoy with students, and instead takes on that role with the younger teachers at the school.
“I enjoy the post-conference after observing a teacher and we just talk about what happened that day,” he said, “what's going on with student learning, the teaching goals they'se had, the methodology they'se used.”
While this may not be the typical teacher-student relationship many teachers relish, the effect can be much broader; these types of conversations build up the leadership and learning capacities of the school, ultimately making Algonquin's staff, “better and better at what we do.”