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Q&A with the Milton Public Schools’ John Phelan

The assistant superintendent discusses his career and some exciting changes for the Milton school system.

What initially drew you to the field of education?

I found myself as an accounting and economics major in college. As I thought about what my workday would look like in that profession, I began to think about what I really like to do. In thinking about that, I realized that I had been a counselor, coach and in the people business for a long time, and enjoyed it – so I gravitated toward education with the help of some great mentors (former teachers and coaches).

You formerly served as the principal at Pierce Middle School. What were those days like?

The best job I ever had was being principal of the Pierce Middle School. The faculty and staff are incredible; the parents of the students with whom I worked were extraordinary in their energy and support for the school during the years of construction, and moving from location to location. And, of course, the students – to work with young people during the middle school years is a unique experience. I see many of my former students presently, as old as 26 to 27 years old, and they come right up and talk – it is the best part.

Those days were filled with long hours of work that did not seem like work, due to all the great students, staff and parents.

Your duties as assistant superintendent must keep you busy. Describe a typical day.

A typical day begins with an early meeting with the superintendent to discuss the day’s schedule and answering emails that came in overnight.  As the day progresses, I interact with principals and curriculum folks to ensure that we are supporting what they goals are for the day/week and year. The goal of my position is to support the principal’s other administrators, so they can in turn support the teachers. If we support the teachers – the ones who do the hard work – then students will win with a well-run and engaging classroom and rigorous academic experience. The work as assistant superintendent is more “adult”-based and you definitely miss working on a daily basis with students.

One issue Milton has been dealing with is the issue of non-residents attending the schools. How goes the battle of weeding them out?

The Milton public schools have been very proactive in their approach to dealing with non-residents. The first thing we do is ensure that all students who enroll in the schools are living in Milton. We also provide documents that clearly state the law and policies involved, and inform parents and guardians that we reserve the right to investigate any concerns that may arise. This clarity is helpful. Then if we in fact have a concern, we very respectfully proceed with communicating and meeting with families to determine if there has been a change in their residency status. If there has been a change, we inform them of the law and policy again and support their transition to another school system.

This is an exciting time for the school system. Three schools –Milton High, Pierce and Cunningham Elementary School – are getting new principals. Could you briefly talk about that, and any other changes planned?

I believe from my conversations with colleagues in other districts that many educators feel the Milton public schools are a great place to work. I agree. We attract very talented educators to our system. We also are able to challenge and retain talented professionals. This is the case with James Jette, the new Milton High School principal, and Dr. Karen Spaulding, the new Pierce Middle School principal. Both Karen and James are extraordinarily talented people and professionals.

As for the Cunningham principal position – the Cunningham is a great place to work and a great school community to work (for faculty and parents). The job will be one that is coveted in the educational community at large and I am confident we will find a principal that is a great fit for the faculty, parents and students of the Cunningham School.

The work this summer will be to support their transition to their new roles and new buildings. I am excited to work with both James and Karen in the coming weeks and months as we prepare to open school in September.



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