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What's It Like To Have One Of The Nation's Best Assistant Principals? Ask Rutland High School

Greg Schillinger looks at the camera in the Rutland High School library.
Nina Keck
Greg Schillinger has worked as as associate principal at Rutland High School for five years. He's among three finalists for the NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year Award which will be announced in April.

You may remember a favorite teacher or coach from high school, but what about your assistant principal? In many schools, it's probably a job known for dealing with behavior problems and handing out detention.

But Rutland High School associate principal Greg Schillinger sees his role very differently — and he's now one of three finalists for National Assistant Principal of the Year.

Most mornings, Schillinger said, he likes to be at work by 7:30 a.m. so he can greet students as they arrive. On a recent Wednesday, he was calling out a steady stream of “Good mornings!” as he made his way to his office.

That office is not up front near administration, as you might expect. Instead Schillinger's office is down the hall, across from the cafeteria in a noisy, high-traffic area.

"You need to be where the students are," Schillinger said. "So if the students are in the cafeteria, get in the cafeteria; if the students are in the hallway, you've got to be out in the hallway.”

Being around kids comes naturally to Schillinger; he’s got four of his own. He also spent time as an English teacher before working his way up to being a principal at Woodstock Union, a high school which during his tenure had about 400 students. 

You don’t often hear about principals who want to go back to being assistant principals — it seems like a step in the wrong direction professionally. Schillinger, however, doesn’t see it that way. 

"So I was ready for a bigger school," he explained. "My family is here, that was a big part of it. You know, we passed my daughter in the hallway on the way here. But yeah, you know, climbing the corporate ladder, it just doesn't hold a lot of appeal to me." 

"And if you get into education for the title, or for the money for that matter," added Schillinger, with a laugh, "you're in it for the wrong reasons."

"You need to be where the students are. So if the students are in the cafeteria, get in the cafeteria; if the students are in the hallway, you've got to be out in the hallway." — Greg Schillinger, Rutland High School associate principal

Schillinger has worked at Rutland, a high school with 840 students, since 2014. He calls the work he does as an associate principal there incredibly satisfying.

It's not about being an enforcer, he clarified. “The role has changed. It's always about learning," Schillinger said.

Though that's not to say Schillinger doesn’t have to deal with students who cross the line. But he said in those situations, he relies more on his classroom skills than the threat of detention.

He said he tries to get students to understand the long-range ramifications of their behavior, whether it’s using offensive language, skipping class or not getting extra help from a teacher.

“Part of my daily routine," Schillinger said, "is to call those kids down and say, ‘So how’d that go? You know, that assignment that your English teacher wants you to get finished — did you get that finished? You know, do you need more help on it?’"

"It’s more, 'OK, let’s have a conversation about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and yeah that needs to change,'" Schillinger continued. "And the learning might be about, 'Hey look, how’s that going to go for you outside of school?'”

Associate Principal Greg Schillinger stands in the entrance of Rutland High School
Credit Nina Keck / VPR
Associate principal Greg Schillinger stands in the entrance of Rutland High School where he often greets students as they arrive in the morning.

Schillinger is 48, but seems younger. He moves easily through the hallway and up a nearby staircase, and he wears a walkie-talkie for quick communication.

“To be a good school administrator, you can't spend the day in your office,” he explained as he greeted passing faculty and students by name.

Working with faculty on curriculum is a big part of Schillinger's job. On this Wednesday morning, he spent time with two different groups of teachers who are planning a global studies fair for freshmen. This particular project has lots of moving pieces, and teachers and students have been working on it for months.  

“Part of what Greg does is really push the curriculum in a direction and push the groupings of the teachers in a direction that’s a lot different than traditional high school," said Abby Brodowski, who teaches ninth-grade English. “It’s his job to kind of look at the staff and look at the thing that we’re trying to do and make it so that all these different personalities can come together and function.”

"It's his job to kind of look at the staff and look at the thing that we're trying to do and make it so that all these different personalities can come together and function." — Abby Brodowski, Rutland High School English teacher

Brodowski said Schillinger strikes a balance between counseling, coaching and just giving space.

“It really does push us into places where we have to do things we haven’t done before, you know?" she said. "And that’s the unique part, and he’s just very good at that."

Brodowski said it's why she and others at the school nominated Schillinger for the assistant principal of the year award. He won the state title last year and will find out if he won the national award the second week of April.

The other two finalists in the running for the National Association of Secondary School Principals' annual honor are Lainie Kitzmiller of Tuscon, Arizona, and Meghan Redmond of New Stuyahok, Alaska.

Schillinger said he’s grateful for the recognition, but he believes it’s really the connections he makes with students day-to-day that are the true measure of how he’s doing. 

My hope is that students here will think about, ‘Oh yeah, the assistant principal? Yeah, he knew me,’" Schillinger said. "And that's, that's when you know you did the job right.”

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