ELLENBURG — For Rob Witkiewicz, assuming the principalship at Northern Adirondack Middle School is like getting to come home.
“Not a lot of people, I don’t think, in their lifetime will ever get the opportunity that I’ve been given. I’m pretty blessed with that.”
A lifelong bobcat, Witkiewicz attended Northern Adirondack Central School from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“Then 10 days after I graduated from college, I was hired back here as a teacher,” he said.
Witkiewicz spent the next 27 years teaching mostly sixth- through 12th-grade math along with a CAP course in personal health and physical education.
He also served as the dean of discipline at NAC prior to becoming K-12 principal of Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School in July 2015, his first real interaction with K-5 students.
If he ever had a bad day, Witkiewicz could walk down the elementary hallway, where students greeted him warmly and with many leg-hugs.
“So it was challenging because I had never done that before, but it was a lot of fun,” he said.
NACS Superintendent of Schools James Knight Jr. — who took over after Laura Marlow’s retirement earlier this year — said the district started its search for a new middle school principal to succeed Pamela Ross in the spring.
“We had an initial round of interviews and we could not come to an agreement with a candidate at that time back in June, so it prompted us to re-post this summer for a middle school position.”
Qualities the district sought in a candidate included experience at the middle-school age level and knowledge of current trends with technology, curriculum changes and student discipline.
Witkiewicz said not much has changed at the school since he left, other than Knight coming on as the new superintendent.
“That is one of the reasons I was very excited to come here is to have a superintendent that is an educational leader that has similar viewpoints on education that I do.”
When Witkiewicz started on Oct. 4, the school had a pep rally — though he is not sure if that was planned — where he was introduced to all the students in grades six through 12.
“I know most of the current seniors and juniors and have seen a lot of those other students throughout the years, but I’ve been making my way around the school daily to meet all the students.”
Middle-school students dealing with educational changes and adolescence are completely different from their counterparts in elementary and high school, Witkiewicz said.
He actually began his career teaching only seventh-graders, which at the time diverged from his desire to teach more advanced math such as calculus.
But when the school approached him a few years later about teaching older students, he decided to stay at the middle-school level.
“I stuck with it all those years because once you figure them out, you don’t have to get these students excited, you just have to know where to direct that excitement.
“They’re already excited and so, once you figure that age out, they’re a lot of fun.”
Over this school year, the district is looking to continue building upon its technology, including getting its distance learning lab up and running and gearing towards one-to-one technology for students, Knight said.
And Witkiewicz wants to maintain Northern Adirondack Middle School’s status as one of the best in the area.
“Our test scores have always been phenomenal, above and beyond what most people’s are, and consistently, not just once in a while,” he said.
“I want to look into everything that we’ve done here to make sure that we can maintain that, but I’d like to bring some of my own flavor to how we approach it.”
Several rows of staff members’ pictures with the words “Welcome” printed next to them now adorn Witkiewicz’s office door.
But when he first arrived, those pictures were all over his office — the door, the walls, the windows.
“There were two reasons that I wanted to come back: because of the school and community and because of the leader that we had here,” Witkiewicz said.
“Those two things together made an opportunity that I really couldn’t turn down.”
The school couldn’t be in a better place with hiring Witkiewicz, Knight said.
“To find someone who has the history and want to be here is unmatched.”
Email Cara Chapman: