Agassiz Elementary Secondary School saw a changing of the guard at the beginning of February.
As of Feb. 1, School District No. 78 veterans Greg Lawley and Gord Johnston have taken over as AESS principal and vice principal respectively.
“I’m excited,” Lawley said of this new career venture. “I think we have a lot of great kids at our school, a lot of great staff. The role is different, but I’ve kind of done a lot of things with the school in the last 15 years. I know the staff well, I know the students – there’s kids in our school who I either know their parents personally being from Agassiz, or some of them, I taught them.”
“That’s when you know you’ve been around for a while,” Lawley added.
Lawley graduated from AESS in 1988, coming back to work for the district at the now-defunct McCaffrey Alternate School in 1997. He moved on to the secondary school in 2004, putting his human kinetics degree to use as a physical education teacher and an English teacher.
In 2009, Lawley became the school counselor before being promoted to vice principal in 2014. He started as acting principal in September of last year and finally took on the role officially as of February.
Lawley said he feels comfortable in his new role, even through the busy nature of the second semester.
“I think the stage has been set really well by our previous principal,” he said.
Lawley expressed pride in the school’s high provincial ranking and the diversity of the various classes and programs they are able to offer.
“We have 300 students, and we’re able to offer a lot of the programs the bigger schools can’t,” Lawley said. “There’s lots of opportunities for the kids in a lot of different areas.”
Lawley’s focus is primarily on the success of the students as they prepare to enter adulthood.
“We have a Wall of Fame in our school that highlights people who have graduated from our school and have done amazing things,” he added. “While we’re small, we have excellent graduates. We strive for excellence in the things we do.”
Lawley wants to encourage students, especially the secondary students, to try anything that interests them when it comes to classes.
“Kids have lots of electives to choose from and make the most of their choices and make sure they choose things they’re interested in,” he said. “Try new things. That’s what high school is about.”
Gord Johnston is a long-time district veteran as well, back when the school district just encompassed Harrison Hot Springs and Agassiz. He began work at Harrison Elementary and has effectively split his time between the elementary school and AESS. He was hired as a full-time physical education specialist before he moved on to work as an intermediate teacher and then school counselor.
Johnston said his current role is fairly similar to the work he did previously as counselor.
“My interaction with students was kind of on a needs basis, so when students needed something, I was there to support them in that supporting role,” Johnston said. I’m still doing that, but I’m also dealing a little bit more on the discipline side. I’m still doing a lot of the things I was doing as the counselor.”
The change in location of Johnston’s office has changed the atmosphere for students who come to see him.
“My role hasn’t switched really that much, it’s just been more on the administrative side and moving my office,” he said. His new office is next to Lawley’s near the school entrance. “[Students] are a little more reluctant to come just because of where the office is located, but they’re starting to get used to that. I’m still the person they go to.”
Johnston said his main focus at the moment is on the senior student side of things, writing transcripts for provincial officials, helping students with scholarships and preparing seniors for graduation.
“[My work right now] is just making sure all of our kids have a plan for graduation,” he said. I’m making sure applications are in; that date’s coming up pretty quick for kids, too. A lot of kids don’t really know what they want to be doing right now. They know they’re finishing, so it’s sorting through that last little bit.”
Johnston’s advice for students facing their final secondary school semester? Finish strong.
“They need to be staying on top of things and put that effort in right until the end of the year,” said of the students. “Sometimes students have a tendency to get nervous at this time of year; it’s their final year, but that’s kind of the focus, is really finishing strong and staying focused and making that effort.
It’s safe to say that while both men are settling in to new roles, the overall mood is confident and hopeful.
“That’s a good feeling to know that the board feels that they can trust us with what we’re doing,” Johnston said. “We’re both really looking forward to finishing a really good year this year.”