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Getting to Know Mike McRaith, New Montpelier High School Principal


by Lindsey Grutchfield

Mike McRaith
Mike McRaith

Lindsey Grutchfield: Please tell us a little about your background as an educator.

Mike McRaith: My first time as a teacher was in Japan, I taught two years of English in Miharu, Japan, which is in Fukushima Prefecture, which was a wonderful experience. I taught elementary school and middle school, and a little bit of high school and some adults, so I got a really wide range of preparing lessons and that kind of thing. And I was the first ever native speaker there, so that meant that I had a really strong cultural experience. For many kids, because it was rural Japan, I was the first non-Japanese person they had ever met, so they would do funny things like measure my nose, and it was a wonderful experience. And then my second time into education, I taught a college English language class while I was going to graduate school for school counseling. It was for the college students at the university I was at, University of Wisconsin Stout (in western Wisconsin), and that was also very interesting because I worked with people from the Middle East and Asia and Europe and got to have a really strong cultural experience there too. And then I was a high school guidance counselor in Enosburg, Vermont. The reason we moved to Vermont was because my wife is from Montreal, so we’re close to her family. I’m from Wisconsin, I grew up there. And four years [as a] high school guidance counselor in Enosburg, and then I’ve been the middle school principal in Enosburg the last two years, and now I’m here.

Grutchfield: What inspired you to become an educator?

McRaith: I come from a family of educators, education is really important in my family. My grandfather was a superintendent, my mom’s been a teacher for 50 years, my brother is a teacher, two of my sisters are teachers, so education has always been the topic of conversation at the dinner table, and it’s always been highly valuable. And even when I was in high school I would imagine myself, what would it be like if I were the teacher, and how would I do things differently, and how would I do things the same? I guess I’ve always just been excited about communicating ideas and it’s always been a path that I’ve been on, I think.

Grutchfield: What were your first impressions of MHS?

McRaith: Warm. Really warm and welcoming. It might sound sort of cheesy, but there are a lot of heartfelt connections between people here. It’s visible, like you can feel it, which is important to me. I’m coming from a community that was really tight-knit, and I probably wouldn’t have come to a community that wasn’t that way. So, that was my first impression, that it was very welcoming, and other impressions were that the community cares a lot about the schools. They’re really involved and education’s important to the whole community, that’s clear.

Grutchfield: With the school year just around the corner, how are you feeling?

McRaith: A little nervous, of course, you know, will they like me? [laughs] Excited to just get into the school year and get to know the students and get to know the staff better, and their stories. I don’t think that you can help that much until you really know what’s happening and you really know what people’s stories are.

Grutchfield: Are there any changes you plan to implement at MHS this year?

McRaith: The changes that will happen right away are pretty small. There’s a lot of good momentum here, so I think my primary duty in the next year anyways is to just carry that momentum. And I think there are also some really big changes at the state level for secondary schools around the state, so I have a lot of opportunity for leading school transformation in some ways. It is already underway here, the Montpelier High School Learning Expectations is really ahead of the game in the state, so I’m definitely going to build on that momentum and we’re going to take a really hard look at the Class of 2020 and the big changes, the exciting changes for them — personalized learning plans, kids are going to have personalized learning plans in 9th grade and 10th grade for the first time.

Grutchfield: What would you like your legacy as principal of MHS to be one day?

McRaith: Well, I think the most important thing for me is those relationships and the way that people treat one another. No matter how much success we have or accolades we might have, what is most important to me is how we treat one another, because that’s really what it comes down to in the end. So, I think that that’ll be something that I talk about a lot, and if I left this place, whether that’s five years or 20 years or whatever, I think that would be something I would be proud of, if people said, ‘well, at Montpelier High School … it’s a place of kindness, it’s a place of respect, and students treat one another that way and staff treat students that way, and the students treat the community that way, that would be important to me.

Grutchfield: If there was one thing you could say to every student and faculty member in the building, what would it be?

McRaith: ‘I look forward to getting to know you better.’