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Working Today: Being a middle school principal is a 'juggling act'

National Principal Month takes place each October to celebrate the work of school leaders such as Warrensburg Middle School Principal Jim Elliott who describes the job as a “juggling act.”

“You have to be able to juggle, both physically and metaphorically,” Elliott said. “You have a lot of different people coming from a lot of different directions. With about 840 kids and 100 staff members, it’s about trying to juggle those pieces.”

Elliott has held various positions in the education system.

He taught for eight years, four at Steelville Middle School and four at Warrensburg Middle School.

In 1998, he went to Crest Ridge Middle School where he worked for four years.

He then worked for Dr. Jim Davis (who was principal of Warrensburg Middle School during Elliott’s time attending as a student as well as his time teaching) as assistant principal from 2002 to 2006.

When Davis retired in 2006, Elliott took over as principal and has held the position in the years since.

What would surprise people most to learn about your job?

“My schedule is not always full, but I’m always busy. It can be hard to track me down at times. I once did a presentation for my daughter’s first grade class — she’s 26 now — and I brought in a fire hat, a police hat and a black gown and I said at my job I’m putting out fires, I’m investigating things, sometimes I’m a judge, but it all falls under the fact that I’m trying to help kids become more successful as they go through life.”

What’s the most common question you get about what you do?

“A lot of the time it’s more of, ‘How do you work with middle school kids?’ When I first went into teaching, I was going to be a high school history teacher and football coach. A friend of mine was teaching at Hannibal Junior High at the time and I was going to Culver-Stockton College. He said, ‘You need to try middle school,’ so I student taught and I never left middle school. I found my passion. I love working with that 11- to 15-year-old age group. They’re ever-changing. They come into sixth grade from an elementary background and are excited for such a big change and by the end of eighth grade, they’re ready for high school.”

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

“I don’t know if I’d call it challenging, but there are things that happen that make you say, ‘Huh, I didn’t see that coming.’ It’ll catch you off-guard sometimes. Also, we’re large — we have about 840 kids here and it’s like herding cats at this level. They have many different ideas. Middle school kids are great because they want to serve, they still like their teachers and they want to have that relationship. But when we’re trying to get everyone going in the same direction because our main goal is to help these kids be successful and college and career ready, sometimes kids have a different perspective of what that should look like.”

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

“When I see people in public and they come up to talk to me when maybe they didn’t always do that at the middle school level. It’s always rewarding to see that kid who may have struggled is now a productive member of society and they’re contributing. They’ve found their niche and they’re doing well.”

Would 10-year-old you be surprised that you are in this position or field?

“Well yeah, I was going to be an NFL football player just like every other 10-year-old. I played school really well, but school wasn’t my favorite thing to play. As I got older and went to church camp and things like that, I realized I had that ‘coaching’ in me. Good coaches are good teachers and good teachers are good coaches.”

What advice would you give someone starting a job similar to yours?

“School is fun. It really is, but sometimes we lose focus of that. We become focused on reading, writing and math. When someone asks, ‘What do you teach?’ the answer should be, ‘Kids.’ Not math, not science, not language arts, I teach kids. We have so much influence over how they grow. A Maya Angelou quote that sticks with me said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ Kindness and compassion are, a lot of the time, what people are going to remember. They’re not going to remember the awesome algebra lesson I taught, they’re going to remember that I took an interest in them and built a relationship with them.”

Submitted Photo  

Edward Jones Financial Advisor Michael Friedli prepares to cut the ribbon as the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce hosts a ceremony for its new member on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Friedli’s office is located at 303 Hawthorne Boulevard, Suite D, in Warrensburg. “Whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for college for children or grandchildren or just trying to protect the financial future of the ones you care for the most, we can work together to develop specific strategies to help you achieve your goals,” Friedli said.

Submitted Photo  

The Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce hosts a ribbon cutting for Johnson County Board of Services on Wednesday, Oct. 16, in celebration of 10 years of targeted case management for those with developmental disabilities and their families. Its goal is to improve the quality of their lives through increased self-sufficiency and to foster integration into the community. At the event, Executive Director Melissa Frey presented Misty Miller, former Johnson County Board of Services employee and current RISE Community Services Executive Director, with an award for her contributions to the establishment of case management in Johnson County.