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(Photo by Candace Braun)

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GETTING STARTED: New Princeton High School principal, Gary Snyder, makes phone calls at his desk to catch up on what's been happening in the district. The new principal started on October 1, right before the start of construction and renovations on the school.

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Snyder Discusses Construction at PHS

Candace Braun

Almost a year behind schedule, groundbreaking for Princeton High School's $32.8 million construction project took place on Friday, November 14. Now that renovations and expansions are underway at all six schools in the district, a difficult time is beginning for students and faculty.

But a multi-year construction project isn't something Gary Snyder can't handle. For the new PHS principal, construction is something he's dealt with in the past. Coming from a school in Massachusetts where the combined middle school and high school underwent a multi-year construction project costing $22 million, Mr. Snyder said both exciting and trying times are in store for PHS.

"It will be exciting to see the construction get started," said Mr. Snyder, who took on his position six weeks ago. "But then it will get inconvenient, and turn into what I call the 'ugly stages.' Construction machines and equipment will be everywhere, and it will look like a mess."

However, he said, the excitement will come back when people start to be able to see progress, just as it is being seen at John Witherspoon Middle School across the street, where steel bars are going up.

"Folks here have been waiting a long time for this," he said, noting evidence of construction already. "I saw some stakes in the ground where the temporary parking will be [across Walnut Lane]."

The project, which was delayed due to the district's need to go out to bid three times to find an affordable contractor, is expected to take almost three years.

Starting Out

Despite the high school going through seven principals in the last ten years, Mr. Snyder says he hopes to start off his position with a clean slate. The new principal started at the high school on October 1.

"I think it's important to focus on the job here, to provide top-rate education for all the students," he said.

He said that being a history teacher in the past, he knows that one must learn from others while continuing to look ahead. "I don't want to get caught up in dwelling in the past and not dealing with the present and looking towards the future," he said.

The principal says he has not come into the district with a personal agenda, other than focusing on providing a good education for Princeton students.

"I am listening [to the community], and it's turning more into talking now," he said. "It's not an agenda, but a conversation about what is important to Princeton High School."

Mr. Snyder said he is meeting with faculty, the site council, as well as the PTO, along with having informal conversations with members of the community. He said one of his main priorities is to speak with teachers about what they as a group feel defines good, effective teaching.

He said he has asked faculty to write down their concerns and ideas on index cards, which he will share in a meeting with the high school staff in the near future.

"It's an important conversation to have," said Mr. Snyder.

Mr. Snyder, 40, grew up outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., and received his undergraduate degree in secondary education and social studies from the University of Pittsburgh. After college, he got a teaching job in Blacksburg, Va.

After teaching there for several years, he became more interested in the administrative side of education, and went back to school at Virginia Tech, where he got his masters in school administration.

"In your classroom you have influence over the 20 or 30 students in front of you, and you start to get the idea that maybe you could have influence over more," said Mr. Snyder.

After a brief stay in California where he taught history in a private middle school and high school for a year, he and his wife moved to Massachusetts. There, Mr. Snyder became assistant principal at a high school in Northfield for six years, and then principal for three years. His wife, who is still living in Northfield, works as a professor at the University of Massachusetts. She will be moving to the area with her husband in January when she takes on the position of associate professor for the nursing school at the University of Pennsylvania.

A New Community

While hectic times have been taking place due to the start of construction, the new principal said he has still had a nice welcome from the community.

"I've met a lot of people these past few weeks," he said. "There is a wide range of talent from students through adults."

He said the overall feeling he has gotten from the community is that parents are very concerned about their children and their education. He says there is also a lot of excitement about the changes taking place with construction.

"It's a great field to work in, and fun to talk about with the community," said Mr. Snyder. Mr. Snyder, who is now staying in a hotel, has been looking at houses in Bucks County, Pa., particularly Yardley and Newtown. He said that once he and his wife sell their house in Massachusetts, they are hoping to find a house that is a halfway point for both of them to travel to work.

"We actually have a bid on our house today," he said at the interview. "Now we're just waiting for the phone to ring and see how we did."

Mr. Snyder's family mostly resides in the Pittsburgh area, and his wife's family lives in Bucks County, Pa.

"Once my wife got the job offer at the University of Pennsylvania in late spring, I started to look in this area for a job," said Mr. Snyder. He said he found the high school principal position posted in an education trade magazine.

The PHS principal said he is used to living and working in a college town. In the past he has lived near Virginia Tech, Va., University of California at Berkeley, and Amherst College, Mass. He said he had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a teacher preparation program at Princeton University, which he found inspiring and helpful.

"It was nice to hear others talk about education," he said. "The ability to so easily work at school during the day and walk a few blocks and do something like that can be very inspiring. It keeps the creative juices flowing so you can continue to think about things from different perspectives."

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