Nine months after meeting with Arlingtonian’s Grace Moody to discuss her hopes for the year, first-year principal Emilie Greenwald reflects on the year

By Grace Moody, ’14

On July 31, Emilie Greenwald bid farewell to beloved principal Kip Greenhill and prepared to take over the position herself. The warm summer day was an emotional one for them both, as Greenhill said goodbye to the school that had made such an impact on him for 17 years.

Days later, on Aug. 21, Emilie Greenwald walked the halls of UAHS as principal. When I met with Greenwald in September, excitement about her new position filled the discussion. Nine months later, as final exams approach and graduation invitations arrive, Greenwald prepares to graduate the class of 2013 as well as wrap up her first and only school year as principal.

On May 20 Greenwald announced her resignation from the position as principal and her promotion to the district’s Chief Academic Officer.

“Although leaving the high school is bittersweet, I look forward to continuing to serve this community in my new role,” she wrote in an e-mail to parents. “It has been my pleasure to get to know the students, parents, and staff and to be part of this committed, engaging community of learners.”

Greenwald took a moment to review her year as the principal and why it meant so much.

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Q: How did the reality of this year compare to your expectations going in?

Greenwald: I don’t think I slept at all over the summer from being nervous about the fall. I think I was so nervous before everyone got here, [but] once everyone got here we just got up and running. I think I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that people have been so kind, so gracious. They have been very, very good to me, both the staff and the students and families. It has made doing the job very doable.

Q: What changes have you made that you believe have been beneficial to the school?

Greenwald: I do think the morning announcements have been good because we used to have them on the TVs and then that stopped working and so kids didn’t know when things were happening and it was hard. We would hear a lot from families about when is this going on and when is that going on. So we’ve really tried to communicate better with families, so I think that’s good. And those attendance calls are another thing; it’s communication with families. I don’t think we have had any other huge changes that students would notice. I also think the morning announcements have been a good way for kids to get involved in clubs. That’s been huge because every day we announce what clubs are going on; we also announce what sporting events are going on and different activities so that kids can go to things. And that’s another thing that’s been big; I’ve seen kids showing up to some things and supporting each other, so that’s good too, to communicate better with families, so I think that’s good.

Q: What were your thoughts about following in former principal Kip Greenhill’s footsteps?

Greenwald: Kip and I talked a lot about that because when I was hired here seven years ago he was always saying to me, ‘When you become principal think about this type of thing, you’re going to need to do this, try this.’ His last day was July 31. That was a very, very hard day, and he and I sat down and he cried and I cried and we talked about me forging my own path. He said to me, ‘Don’t try to be Kip Greenhill; you have to do your own thing.’ And that was the best thing anybody could have ever said to me. I really have tried to do things the way I think I need to do them and sometimes that is the way he would have responded to things, but other times it’s not. It is hard to follow a legend but I think people have been very accepting of me and who I am and how I do things, and it’s made following that legend a lot easier.

Q: What goals have you achieved during your year as principal?

Greenwald: I think we have addressed safety this year, mainly because it came up. That would not have been on our radar, but we realized it was something we had to address, so we addressed that. One of the other things we did this year that I’ve been pleased about is offering a couple of evening parent meetings. One of them was on safety and one of them was on drug and alcohol use; I think those were important. The other thing that I think is important is maintaining the friendly culture of the building for students and I think we’ve done that. And I will say students were paranoid at the beginning of the school year and I heard it a lot, that they were nervous about things changing and them not having a lot of the freedoms that they enjoy. But I think we’ve really maintained the culture of the building.

Q: Regarding the failure of the levy, what were the difficulties that came with laying off some teachers?

Greenwald: I think that was probably the hardest day I have had here in the seven years I’ve been here because I had to sit across from wonderful, talented teachers and tell them that through no fault of their own, they don’t have a job. And I don’t think anything can prepare you for that, whether it’s your first year or your last year. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had been a principal for 10 years or one year; it was just a hard, hard day. If there’s a little glimmer of hope it’s that some of them have started getting jobs elsewhere, and so I’m happy that people are starting to hire these great teachers and that they can continue to teach.

Q: What have you seen throughout the student body that has made you proud to be the principal of UAHS?

Greenwald: I attended the state swim meet and both of our teams were runners-up and were amazing. One of the things that made me so proud was when we heard from the families at the schools who were the state champions that our kids were standing there congratulating their kids, the ones who went up to the podiums to take first place. That, to me, speaks so much about who our kids are and the type of people we are here at UA.

Q: What are your thoughts about graduating the class of 2013 in just a few short days?

Greenwald: This senior class will be very, very special to me … These seniors have been amazing; they are a great senior class. Every year we have great classes come through; we are very, very fortunate. This group of seniors has really embraced me. They went through for three years with Mr. Greenhill, and it could have been hard for them—they could have been really missing him—and instead they have been wonderful to me. And so it’s going to be hard. I think I will get pretty emotional at graduation.

Q: What are your biggest hopes for the staff, the student body, and the class of 2013?

Greenwald: I’m hoping we have a strong end to the school year and that our kids leave feeling like they really gained a lot, learned a lot, and that this was a good experience for them and they have fun memories of high school. I hope they’re well prepared for college, which, [I think] they are. I’m hoping our staff feels good about the year; I think it’s hard for them because of the cuts we had to make and the changes that are coming for them next year, not just from the district, but from the state level. So I’m hoping that as a staff, we can feel like we have done the best we could.