Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Tammy McHale is about to begin her first academic year as full-fledged principal at Haddonfield Memorial High School, having had the “interim” tag removed by vote of the board of education in the spring.
She’s about to enter her third year at the institution – having previously served as dean of students before administrative changes in the summer of 2018 resulted in her elevation to the principal’s role – and eager to get things started on the 2019-20 school year.
“I cannot wait to have the students back. It’s lonely over here in the summer. For me, working with kids and getting that energy back from them is something I’m really looking forward to,” McHale said when The Sun caught up with her at the district administration building on Aug. 6.
With approximately 800 students alongside faculty and staff roaming the halls on any given day, a principal has to keep their head on a swivel, ear to the ground and eyes on the prize. However, McHale’s institution of an “open door” policy intends to break down the barriers between students and adults and foster understanding among all groups of the HMHS community.
“I think it’s important to be approachable and for everyone to have an understanding that they can come to me before certain things become a bigger problem,” she said.
“We want the students to be comfortable, and the only way that’s going to happen is if they come down to the principal’s office, see that I’m approachable, that it’s not a bad place to be and anyone can come there for support. Having a background in counseling, I think that’s what I draw from.”
McHale is a graduate of Villanova and Rowan universities, who pursued dual majors of psychology and communications as an undergrad, before obtaining a master’s in school psychology. From the late 1990s through the mid 2010s, she worked for Clearview Regional High School, starting as a school psychologist, progressing to a supervisor for special education and then director of special education for the district.
It seems like a natural fit, then, for McHale to seek greater interaction with students as they navigate the sometimes rough waters of their high school years. She is also well aware of the difference between her former role as disciplinarian and current role as steward.
“When Chuck (Klaus) was the principal, and I was dean, there was always a lot of interaction and collaboration with the students. Having them take ownership of all the things we’re doing in the high school makes them more powerful. I’m trying to get creative in different ways I can collaborate and interact with them, so I’m in monthly meetings, working with student council, interacting with peer leaders,” she related.
“I try to keep my finger on the pulse; I work very closely with the peer bias group and they’ve continued to build on that program which was new last year. I think that’s something really important to continue.”
Helping McHale take the pulse of the high school last year as she grew into the job was Klaus, who now serves as assistant superintendent for the district.
“He has more institutional knowledge than anyone, so I would be foolish to not build on that, and to utilize him as much as possible. It’s not like I took a job and the principal that was there for 10 years, who is retired and down in Florida. To me, it’s a no-brainer to bounce things off of him. We agree on a lot of things, and we disagree on a lot of things, but in the end, we’re both very student-driven and I think that helps,” she said.
McHale has also been working to establish rapport with two new members of her administrative team: Dean of Students Hamisi Tarrant and Assistant Principal Dan Licata.
“It’s a chance to have a fresh start, a new perspective from two talented and experienced men, and it will be helpful in trying to build on things we started last year: classrooms will be more student-engaged, empowering our teachers to build on the skill set they already have so that it’s more authentic learning. I think Hamisi and Dan are perfect for these initiatives. I think we complement each other, and the one month we’ve worked together has been really productive.”
McHale does foresee some challenges in the year ahead, dealing mostly with proposed tweaking of student schedules and classroom structure in keeping up with the 21st-century educational mindset espoused by Superintendent Larry Mussoline.
“I think when we focus on our strategic goals, in order for them to have meaning, we need to get that buy-in from the community, from our teachers, and the students. We’ve put a lot of thought into how we want to do all that, so everyone is moving forward in the same direction.”