Saturday, December 7, 2013
WESTBROOK - Westbrook High School has a new mantra.
Jon Ross, the new principal at Westbrook High School, is considered to be tough but fair, and he says he’s ready for the challenge of improving discipline at the school.
Jill Brady/Staff Photographer
It's on the back of the football team's summer T-shirts and on the front of the student handbook that was sent to the printer Tuesday.
Perseverance. Integrity. Aspirations.
"Those three words are going to be all over this school," said Jon Ross, who this week became the school's third principal in less than two years.
There's no question students and staff at Westbrook High School could use some words of encouragement. By all accounts, they had a rough year.
There were the incidents that made headlines -- a longtime coach and teacher charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor last fall, the high school junior's bullying complaints that went largely unaddressed and the subsequent internal investigation that resulted in an assistant principal being placed on leave last month.
In addition to a lack of consistent leadership, a budget shortfall two years ago that resulted in the elimination of an assistant principal, a guidance counselor and support staff added to the school's problems. Teachers said fighting and students skipping classes were other issues at the high school.
"It was just chaos," said School Committee member Suzanne Joyce, who has two children at the high school. "It was a free-for-all for the kids. They were running the school."
She believes Ross can regain control of the students and their respect.
"He's tough, but he's fair, and he's empathetic," said Joyce. "You need someone to have it all, and I think Jon does."
As director of adult and alternative education for 10 years, Ross knows the district well and insists he doesn't plan to leave anytime soon.
He said he knows he's facing a challenge, and described ways he plans to meet difficult situations head-on. If there are allegations of bullying, for example, he said he would have the students involved sit down with him. To get students focused on schoolwork, he plans to enforce the school's no-texting rules. To engage family members, he wants to reach out directly to parents to discuss aspects of student life, such as how students use Facebook and other social media.
Ross has already held the post briefly. He filled in as interim principal at Westbrook High in the spring of 2011, when then-principal Marc Gousse took over as school superintendent following the resignation of Reza Namin. He didn't apply for the principal's job that year.
Instead, Thomas O'Malley, a New Hampshire middle school principal, was hired in the summer of 2011. But he resigned before winter break, effective at the end of the school year, without much explanation.
"We had just gone through the process, so that was difficult to receive that news," said Gousse. But, he added, "When one door closes, another one opens."
Although there are a lot of little reasons Ross decided to apply this time, the primary one is pretty simple: "I know I can do it," he said.
Colleagues interviewed agree.
Ross knows how to make kids feel comfortable but also holds them accountable for their actions, they said. He's energetic, even-keeled, and most important, consistent.
"Kids know what they're going to get from him," said Shannon Belt, an alternative learning teacher at the high school.
He's also going to have some help.
The assistant principal position eliminated two years ago was added back in this year's budget.
And two senior girls have already been tapped as the high school's curators, responsible for plastering the walls with students' accomplishments, part of the plan to restore school pride, which has fallen by the wayside in recent years, Ross said.
Ross hopes the effect is that students will stop trying to get away with what they can and start "doing the right thing when nobody's watching," he said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at