Six new principals start as class resumes in Cedar Rapids district

First-time principals say they're excited to have students back in school

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CEDAR RAPIDS — As some 16,000 Cedar Rapids students head back to school Tuesday, more than one in five will be greeted by a new principal on the first day.

Six schools in the Cedar Rapids district — Harrison, Taylor and Jackson elementaries, McKinley Middle and Metro alternative and Washington highs — have new top administrators this school year.

The retirement of Washington High Principal Ralph Plagman, who stepped down this month amid a district investigation into his administration after 35 years at the school, has caused concern for a number of parents and students returning to class this week. He has since been replaced by interim Principal Carlos Grant.

New administrators have to prioritize connecting with students and families, Superintendent Brad Buck said.

“A key responsibility of any new principal is really reaching out and building relationships with students,” Buck said. “You need to be working as hard as you can to make sure things are ready to go.”

The district’s new principals said Monday they were excited and eager for students to start the new school year.

As the principal of the district’s only school on a year-round schedule, Taylor Elementary Principal Andrea Scott had her first day of school about six weeks ago.

It’s a busy time for a principal, she said, especially a new one like her in her first year.

“My big goal was meeting families and meeting children and making sure that all the kids have what they need and welcoming them to school,” Scott said. “There’s always lots of things to do … but nothing that I didn’t anticipate.”

Meet the Cedar Rapids district’s four other new principals:

Trista Manternach, Harrison Elementary

Previous: Elementary principal in Waterloo

First-day feelings: “We’re doing an overhaul of building climate and making it very student-friendly. … We’re just trying to bring out all of this school spirit.”

School year vision: “We’re focusing a lot on behavior. Harrison was the second highest as far as referrals written across the district, so we’re focusing on helping our kids stay in the classroom.”

Students should know: “I want them to know I love having fun. I’m here for the kids.”

Nick Duffy, Jackson Elementary

Previous: Principal and chief administrator for Cedar Rapids’ Holy Family School System

First-day feelings: “I’ve been ready for students since the first day I got here. They’re kind of why I get excited every day for school. … It’s been a dream of mine since I was a (Jefferson) high school senior to be a principal in this district.”

Looking forward: “This is my third principal position, and this is my fourth year as a principal. I’m looking to hopefully being here for a very long time.”

Students should know: “It’s not always the worst thing to spend time in the principal’s office. I make it my goal to be a positive force in the school rather than a disciplinarian, so just because I know their name, it’s not a bad thing.”

Jason Martinez, McKinley Middle

Previous: Middle school principal in Mount Pleasant

Before-school jitters: “When I wake up tomorrow (Tuesday) I’ll probably be a little nervous. This is a new school for me. You want to do well.”

Parents should know: “I expect from my teachers, from my staff, that they’re putting kids number one. Parents should expect me to expect that of my staff — and of me.”

Students should know: “I expect them to give 110 percent every day, and I try to give 110 percent every day — and we should expect that from each other.”

Brian Galusha, Metro Alternative High

Previous: Associate principal at Clinton High in Clinton

Passion for struggling students: “The students I enjoy working with the most are the ones who struggle to learn or struggle in society … and helping them get to a place where they’re successful. And it’s not me judging whether they’re successful, but themselves.”

Students should know: “I’m approachable. I would like to get to know them and participate in their lives.”

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