Friday, September 18, 2020

Person of the Week

Melanie Whitcher: Math Smarts + People Skills = Career in Education

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Daniel Hand High School Assistant Principal Melanie Whitcher previously worked as a math coordinator for the school and as a math teacher and coach in Branford. The North Branford resident has a master's degree in teaching and a sixth-year degree in educational leadership. Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Sound

Daniel Hand High School Assistant Principal Melanie Whitcher previously worked as a math coordinator for the school and as a math teacher and coach in Branford. The North Branford resident has a master's degree in teaching and a sixth-year degree in educational leadership. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

Melanie Whitcher’s career path to become Daniel Hand High School’s new assistant principal began in a rather unusual place—in college as a business major with a focus on accounting.

As a student at Quinnipiac University, she was adept in math—so adept, in fact, that her GPA was very good and she told her guidance counselor that math electives were “easy courses” that gave her an easy A.

“I enjoy them,” she says. “So, my counselor at the time goes, ‘I think we need to hone in a little bit on that, if that’s a strength for you.’”

But she resisted the suggestion of her counselor to pursue an actuarial path or any numbers-crunching career for that matter, revealing instead that she wanted to focus on building relationships and working with people.

So, the counselor thought for a moment and came up with a solution: pursue education instead.

Melanie took that advice and never turned back.

She finished her bachelor’s degree with a major in math, graduating magna cum laude in 2005. She completed her master’s in teaching in 2006, and then earned a sixth-year degree, major in educational leadership, from 2012 to 2014. She finished each advanced degree with an honors distinction from Quinnipiac University.

Even as she pursued her post-graduate studies, she plunged into her career with the same dedication, working as a math teacher at Branford High School from 2005 to 2015.

A resident of North Branford with Billy, her husband of 12 years, and their two young children, she taught Branford students “everything from freshman algebra to AP statistics as a senior course.”

“I loved working in Branford,” she says. “I had great relationships with my kids and the families there.”

She later worked as a math instructional coach at Branford’s Francis Walsh Intermediate School from 2015 to 2018.

When Daniel Hand High School announced an opening for a math coordinator, she jumped at the chance, making certain that the opportunity was worth leaving a job in Branford she already loved.

“It was truly for career advancement,” she says. “When I went back to school to get my degree for administration, I took a few years to try to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with that. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave the classroom yet.”

“The Madison school system has a phenomenal reputation,” she explains, “and the community relationships are similar to what I’d experienced in Branford. So, it was an extremely attractive district when they had a position open.”

She got the job and worked for a year at Hand as a math coordinator, a position that gave her a chance to work inside a classroom for “two periods a day, and then do sort of their administrative roles the other periods.”

“I got the job as the math coordinator, and immediately knew that I was in the right place. My first year here was amazing,” she says.

Next Stop: Assistant Principal

In her interview for the math coordinator job, Melanie remembers the inevitable probing question, “Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?”

She recalls her response, “I said, ‘I would love to be an assistant principal. That’s part of the reason why I’m looking to make this career move now, so that I can be better prepared when I’m ready to make that shift to an assistant principal.’”

That opening came a bit earlier than she expected.

About six months into Melanie’s position as math coordinator at Hand, Cynthia Schneider, one of the two assistant principals, announced her retirement, and the position was opened to both internal and external applicants.

The prospect was too good to pass up. She applied for and landed the job.

She spent as much time as she could with Schneider to learn the ropes during her transition months.

Now fully acclimated to her new responsibilities, she is gratified that her working relationship with both Principal Anthony (T.J.) Salutari and Assistant Principal Brian Bodner has been collaborative.

“When we get a chance to actually eat lunch, we will have most of the time a working lunch where we will just run through things that are going on in the day,” she says. “We’re always constantly in the loop with each other. And that’s nice. It’s nice to have a support.”

Like other teachers and administrators working in the school, she has an authentic regard for the students’ health and safety. She regards the teenagers at Daniel Hand akin to her own and she feels genuinely concerned for their wellbeing.

“I have a really strong desire to [help] build good character…to spread kindness to people,” she says. “Being in leadership sometimes is tough. We have to make some really tough decisions...but at the end of the day, I want them to be able to say, ‘She really did have my best interests at heart.’

“There are so many good educators and administrators who would tell you the exact same thing,” she says. “We are in this because we’re in the business of helping kids. That’s what we want to do every single day.”


Maria Caulfield is the Associate Editor for Zip06. Email Maria at m.caulfield@shorepublishing.com.

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