Recorder: "Interim GHS principal steps into permanent post"

GREENFIELD — As she left college, Karin Patenaude wondered what to do with an English degree.

She would try the field of law, working as a paralegal. Unfulfilled, she went back to school to get a degree so that she could become a teacher.

Teaching high school English in Palmer, she developed a passion for the profession. American literature was her strong suit and books like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” and Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” were filled with lessons that students of any generation could apply to themselves.

While at Palmer, Patenaude met her husband, who was living in Northfield. She soon moved to Northfield with her husband, and made the hour-plus commute to Palmer every day. Eventually, Patenaude decided to look for a teaching job somewhere in Franklin County.

“Greenfield had an opening and thankfully, they gave me a chance,” Patenaude said while sitting in a principal’s office at Greenfield High School at the outset of the school year.

She can now call this office her own.

After nearly a full school year as “acting principal,” in place of longtime leader Donna Woodcock, who had taken a leave of absence, Patenade was hired for the permanent job by Superintendent Jordana Harper — and she’s not planning on making any other moves anytime soon. About three to five years ago, she convinced her husband to move from Northfield to Greenfield, where they now have a home.

“I love living in the community I work in,” Patenaude said. “You have to be a part of what you’re trying to be a part of.”

An already widely popular principal — for whom teachers and faculty rallied for at a School Committee meeting last school year — Patenaude began the new school year in a fairly comfortable position doing a job she’s been eager to do for years.

Patenaude’s rise to principal was gradual.

When Patenaude came to the Greenfield School District in 2010, she joined the high school as an English teacher. She enjoyed teaching an advanced section of English to students, but got the itch to do more.

“I kept seeing whole-school issues,” Patenaude said. “I thought maybe I should be an administrator.”

Except to do that, she would have to transition out of the high school. An opening for an associate principal gig at the middle school enticed her, despite never working with students at that age. Principal Gary Tashjian interviewed her and eventually hire her.

“I was nervous because I never dealt with middle school-aged children,” Patenaude said. “You really figure out kids are kids are kids. You realize you’re still dealing with children. You have to show them solutions to problems.”

That was an important step for her, but she missed the high school world, where students are on “the edge of life, where you get to see them take their steps into their future.” The transition came when another associate principal position opened up at the high school. She moved back over.

Then came last year when Patenaude, upon Woodcock’s departure in September, became the acting principal of the high school, in what would be a “crazy year.”

Despite the chaos that comes with trying to be principal while learning the job on the fly, Patenaude had the support of a great deal of her colleagues, who had spoken at the time about her openness and accessibility, both with staff and with students.

Remembering back to mentors she had throughout her years both as a student and teacher, she has looked to bring those elements into her own role.

“I still go down and do lunch duty because I like to talk to them and make sure everything is going OK for them,” Patenaude said. “Not just be here in my office because something happened. I think I try to build good relationships with kids and families and I look back and want to make sure that’s something I always look back fondly on. That’s something I pride myself on.”

For her vision of the school, Patenaude wants to make one thing clear about her chief goal.

“First, they’re here to learn,” Patenaude said. “I support extracurriculars, I support athletics, I support clubs, but their first job is to come in and be willing to learn. I expect that as someone who holds academics high; that’s my first goal.”

But that doesn’t mean you won’t spot her at school plays and sporting events, which Patenaude also cares deeply about.

Patenaude is also really looking forward to starting a community service element into graduation requirements for students. The school isn’t there yet, but she hopes it’s something that can happen in the near future.

“You have to figure out how you play a role in your community and give back because eventually in your adult life, it has to be about more than you,” Patenaude said. “I really think this has to be about what we teach them as well.”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264