Jeff Peck joined Whitefish High School as assistant principal this fall, reprising a role he served in nearly a decade ago from 2004 to 2008.
Peck has worked in education since 1995, teaching at Whitefish Middle School, Flathead High School and, most recently, Columbia Falls Middle School. Peck’s first year back has had an unusual start after threats made to area schools by foreign cyber-terrorists led to three days of school closures and the cancellation of Whitefish’s homecoming events.
The Pilot sat down with Peck in his office at Whitefish High School to talk about those challenges early in the school year as well as what he brings to the table as assistant principal.
How does it feel to be back at Whitefish High School?
I’ve been here, I know the faculty, I know the staff, I know the expectations of the community and in some regards I still know some of the families. So it’s been nice to come back.
The new Whitefish High School building opened in 2014, so you’ve got a new building now, too.
That’s what I said when I came in, ‘You guys have done a lot with the place.’
How has it been dealing with a complicated start to the school year, dealing with smoke from wildfires and cyber-threats made against the school? Are things back to normal?
It’s been good. We have programs and protocols in place, obviously we have a very strong leader in [Principal] Mr. Drown, our staff is phenomenal. The kids were magnificent, very resilient through what happened. I think it’s been a great start — you deal with what you have to deal with. I thought our quick response team and [Superintendent] Mrs. Davis Schmidt did a phenomenal job with just preparing us. I thought we handled it well.
Was there confusion coming back and getting a good conversation between students and staff on what had been happening?
There wasn’t. Obviously it was a setback for us because we had homecoming planned for that particular week, but we’re going to do homecoming part two [this] week, so we’ll come back strong. Our students deserve those memories.
What are your responsibilities as vice principal?
I think first and foremost you’re an instructional leader. Your No.1 responsibility is obviously to be a guide and provide assistance to quality instruction, pedagogy — teaching in an effective manner. So that’s No. 1, then you’ve got to be obviously a role model, a lot of people are looking your way. Another component that’s important is that you have to be able to express empathy, respect, courtesy and treat people with those correlates and also be able to value people.
Has your view of this position changed in the years since you last held it at Whitefish High School?
I think inherently, yes. Obviously the industry has changed. So now we’re talking about initiatives like differentiating instruction, common core standards, personal projects — the delivery and just the scope and sequence of what a teacher does in the classroom has changed.
Which was great, because I’ve taught the last four years, so I got to live that. I’ve been a practitioner of some of those educational themes, so that prepared me really well for a supervisor role, going in a classroom and being able to observe instruction and provide feedback and help teachers.
The position has evolved for sure.
What do you enjoy most about the job, then?
Working with people, to be honest. Just being there, being in a supportive role, seeing people grow and develop. Watching people set the bar high, not knowing if they’ll reach it but ultimately achieving their goals. Then I also enjoy working with students in moments where they’ve exercised some indiscretion and made some bad decisions. I understand in that moment how students need to be approached and how we can talk about how exhibiting that behavior would impact them out in the work world.
Do you have any projects or goals you’re focused on right now?
Right now priority one is building relationships with students and staff. One of our strategic goals in the district is trust, so the first priority is having genuine relationships with students and staff, understanding who the stakeholders are in the organization and how I can help them.
The next goal would be to be there for staff to help with professional development components. What we’re working on right now is a multi-tiered system of support program district-wide, that’s something that I want to learn more about and embed in the way we do business. It’s a systemic approach to providing interventions to students both academically and behaviorally, so we are ingrained in that process right now. That’s one program that we are very excited about. In the end, what you’re doing is taking behaviors — our four correlates are integrity, scholarship, compassion and respect — and you’re embedding those school-wide, so it’s going to help the culture get to a point where everybody is exhibiting those behaviors and clearly understanding that those behaviors promote a productive scholastic environment.
Interview conducted, edited and condensed by Daniel McKay.