Gravenhurst High principal Rick Sellon retiring
GRAVENHURST - Though they all knew this day would come, students and staff at Gravenhurst High School are still sad and a little nervous as they prepare to start anew without their longtime principal Rick Sellon. Sellon recently announced his retirement, effective Jan. 31, 2013.
For more than nine years, Sellon has ruled the roost at the local secondary school in a town he has also called home for 28 of his 31 years in education. His wife, Lisa, is a phys-ed teacher at Gravenhurst Public School and together they’ve raised a son and a daughter, who are now studying to become teachers themselves.
Though the time has gone by fast, said Sellon, he has a lot to be proud of.
“I think we’ve created a very positive, a very good learning environment here at the school,” he said, explaining how events and activities at the school are often tied to relationship building between staff and students. “I think one of the benefits of a small school is the fact that you can do that.”
Though the enrolment has dropped from a high of 530 students when Sellon first became principal to 348 this year, he has always prided himself on knowing every one of his students’ names.
“It’s something I’ve really enjoyed,” he said. “I find that knowing a student by name is huge. If you can call and talk to a student by their first name, then that’s a real advantage, particularly when you’re trying to build those relationships.”
Living in the community has also helped, said Sellon, as he often sees his students outside of the school environment.
“I like to have a little bit of fun with them when they’re working,” he said. “I always tell them you give me a hard time at school, so I’m going to give you a hard time when I see you at work.”
“He’s Mr. Gravenhurst,” said Gravenhurst High School vice-principal Kathy Brown, who has worked with Sellon for eight years now. “He knows all the kids in the school and he knows what they’re up to inside and outside of the school, so he is very personable with the kids.”
Recognizing the important role of a secondary school in a small town, Sellon has also made every effort to link the school and the community, said Brown.
“The school’s a very integral part of the community. We do things with and for the community and the community has been very supportive of the school,” she said. “I’m sure that will carry on because it’s part of us now, because of who Rick is.”
Brown describes Sellon’s style as “kids first,” which may seem like an obvious approach, but in a school populated by teenagers, it’s not always the easiest tactic to take.
“His mantra is family, kids, kindness; it’s all there,” said Brown, a belief she said he encourages in his staff. “It’s not just about sitting in a classroom, it’s about the student and extending that kindness one more time to make sure that they’re having every opportunity to be successful.”
Though Sellon said he has no regrets from his years at Gravenhurst High School, he does admit to a few challenges.
“Certainly declining enrolment was one of them,” he said. “When you decline in enrolment then your staffing goes down as well, so then it becomes an issue how best to put together a time table that is maybe somewhat creative but also meets the needs of the students.”
The advancement in technology over the past decade has also added challenges at the high school level, both in incorporating technology into the classroom and adjusting to the plugged-in students.
“It’s learning how to deal with that type of technologically savvy student,” explained Sellon. “I think teaching has really changed … you really not only need to educate the students but you almost have to entertain them as well.”
Obviously, Sellon and the teachers at Gravenhurst High School are doing something right, as Education Quality and Accountability Office Grade 9 math testing and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test results have shown a trend to increasing scores over the last five years.
Current Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School vice-principal Alison Turnbull knows she has a hard act to follow when she takes over as principal on Feb. 1.
“I think Rick has done an extraordinary job with Kathy Brown since I left,” said Turnbull, who was a vice-principal for two years under Sellon when he first arrived at Gravenhurst High School in 2002. “I think they have built an incredible rapport with staff and students. I think their achievement results have been extraordinary in terms of literacy and I would only hope to build on what they leave.”
Much of what Sellon enjoys as principal in a small secondary school in a small town, Turnbull is also looking forward to, with Brown’s continued help as vice-principal.
“I really am very grateful. I consider the fact that I’m going home,” she said. “Probably out of all of my teaching experiences, my two years in Gravenhurst are probably two of my favourite years in education. I am delighted.”
As for Sellon, he doesn’t intend to quietly fade into the background in the community where he’s lived and worked for so long. Following a well-deserved vacation to Portugal and Spain with his wife in February, Sellon plans to increase his involvement with the Gravenhurst Supper Club, a weekly free dinner put on at Trinity United Church, and also hopes to volunteer at the next Habitat for Humanity Muskoka build.
And the students of Gravenhurst High have not seen the last of Sellon either.
“I’m going to certainly miss coming into school every day, but I’ve told the kids if they started in Grade 9 this year then I’ll be at their graduation for sure,” promised Sellon. “It’s my intention if I’m not on stage to help hand out some awards, I’ll be there to see these four years of kids graduate because that’s important.”