'Change is always happening in a school'

High school assistant principal steps up to higher title

— When Thom Schnellinger started working as Moffat County High School assistant principal in 2005, one of his career ambitions was to become the school's principal.

Three years later, he has achieved that task.

Schnellinger officially will begin the position of MCHS principal August 4. Taking the job following the resignation of former principal Jane Harmon, Schnellinger has jumped headlong into the post that he has been hoping to obtain for several years.

"Leading a school has been a goal of mine for a while," he said. "I'm really excited at the prospects of the new school year, and I think that the students will enjoy it, too."

Students were the motivation for Schnellinger, 52, to start working in an administrative capacity after teaching visual arts in schools in Aztec, N.M., and Buena Vista for 22 years.

"I was always involved in leadership within the arts," he said. "Eventually, I felt the burden to really step up and help both the students learn and the teachers teach. I wanted to help my colleagues and my students, and I got a lot of great support from the parents and administration there."

Schnellinger's transition from assistant principal to the full-fledged title has been smooth, since he was intent on becoming the head of MCHS since his initial hiring.

"I told them during my interview that it was all part of my plan," he said. "Change is always happening in a school. It has to, because it's also happening in the world outside. It may have happened a little sooner than I expected, but I was ready for it."

Schnellinger considers many of his interpersonal goals reached during his tenure as assistant principal, including a development of student relationships and an encouragement toward learning.

Schnellinger's replacement as assistant principal will be Michael Silverman of Englewood High School.

"I'm excited to get him on board," he said. "He actually has a background in business and earth science, but he's also skilled with computer technology. I don't mind the technological stuff, but it certainly helps to have someone who really knows it."

Silverman will share the assistant principal position with Travis Jensen. Jensen will oversee the freshman and junior classes while Silverman oversees the sophomores and seniors.

Schnellinger also has hired Karen Chaney, a former attorney, to work in the alternative school's Youth Experiencing Success program at Boys & Girls Club of Craig. Chaney is the only confirmed hire for next year, with Schnellinger still looking to hire teachers for math, choir, woods and Spanish.

Schnellinger hopes to revitalize student government and the level of student involvement, though he does not have plans for major changes to the school in his first year.

"I don't want to shake things really hard just yet," he said. "For now, I'll start out slow."

His main focus is to prepare students for life after school.

"High school is all about getting ready for the post-secondary experience," he said. "Whether it's college or vocational school or whatever, these kids need as many tools as they can get for their futures."

Schnellinger believes that parents and the community should be partners in creating the education necessary for his students, for whom he has high hopes.

"I expect them to think big and learn important skills, because otherwise, they'll have no opportunities."

Schnellinger paraphrases Winston Churchill in issuing a challenge to MCHS students.

"Success isn't forever, failure is rarely fatal, but courage is everything," he said. "I want students to have the courage to step out, grab all the education that they can and do their best."

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