by Daniella DeMauro
In the spring, Geraldine DeCarlo, who had been principal of Oceanside High School for ten years, retired. The district quickly appointed Dr. Brendon Mitchell to the position, who at the time was the principal of OHS Castleton. Now that he is the new principal of Oceanside High School, I met with Dr. Mitchell to ask him a few questions.
Dr. Mitchell got his start in education over twenty years ago as an English teacher in San Francisco. He had a B.A. in English from Villanova University. Dr. Mitchell moved to San Francisco to teach middle school English before he moved to New York to go to Colombia University. He worked in Harlem, Wantagh, Great Neck, Castleton, and now OHS. When asked why he wanted to be a principal, Dr. Mitchell said “I didn’t actually at first! I wanted to teach English. I wanted to be an English teacher.” After 13 years of teaching, Dr. Mitchell decided to try to become an administrator as a way to “broaden his horizons” to further connect with the students.
Since moving to OHS from Castleton, Dr. Mitchell’s job has changed a lot. Castleton was a smaller school, but while there, he wore “a lot of different hats.” Dr. Mitchell was principal, but he also ran many different activities such as drivers education, adult education, and the summer school program. At OHS there many more students, staff members, and parents. He works with many more people now than when he was principal at Castleton. The important parts that have not changed much, according to Dr. Mitchell, are the curriculum work and really trying to make sure the students and parents are happy in the school – except now, it’s just on a larger scale.
As a teacher or administrator, Dr. Mitchell says connections with students are very important to him. When I asked what Dr. Mitchell thinks is important for students to learn while in high school, he responded,”I want students to find something they are passionate about. Something that they’re excited to pursue, but also not have so specific a lens that they limit themselves from other experiences.” Dr. Mitchell also believes that it’s important to keep in mind the “social emotional well-being” of the students. He wants students to keep focus on growing comfortable with who they are as independent people, and he wants to make sure students have support systems in place to help them with that.
Students learn from teachers, but teachers can also learn from their students during their careers. Every year Dr. Mitchell tries to learn something new from his students – one important aspect of teaching that Dr. Mitchell learned more about was the compassion that comes along with being a teacher or administrator. As a young teacher, he focused a lot on the curriculum and reading, but a young student reminded him of “the compassion side of it – the human nature” teachers need as well. He explained how important it is to remember that teaching is not only about the curriculum but also about dealing with “young minds” and students who do have their own personal issues outside of school.
In addition to the average high school stress, this school year has presented many new, difficult challenges to deal with. The pandemic has many students feeling anxious. For these stressed or anxious students, Dr. Mitchell hopes to “create an environment here where we feel safe and supported – a place where every person has the same access to resources as a community and has those support systems they need for whatever they might be struggling with.” Some resources available at the high school include the mental health wellness task force (staff members who discuss resources for students), a virtual wellness center, and an “anchor down” room, which is a designated space where students can go to unwind. There is also an equity committee at the high school to ensure that everybody feels supported.
This school year has been a challenging one. However, Dr. Mitchell seems comfortable in his new position and has clear goals and expectations for the future. Oceanside High School is lucky to have him.