Britton-Hecla Middle School and High School Principal Carrie James was named the Region 4 Middle School Principal of the Year by the South Dakota Association of Secondary School Principals. She is now eligible for the state competition.
James Named Principal Of Year
At first thought it doesn’t seem like a desire to study agriculture in college has much of a connection to serving as a school principal.
But for Britton-Hecla middle and high school principal Carrie James there’s a common bond.
“Looking back I could have done ag. I liked being a part of the farm and love being outside. I like watching things grow and change, and maybe that’s why I like education.”
That growth has also worked in the opposite direction. James took over the principal position just four years ago after serving as a teacher in the school, and already she has been recognized by her peers as the Region 4 (northeast SD) Middle School Principal of the Year. Region winners are now eligible for state recognition.
“She hasn’t been at it for very long but obviously has made some impressions on colleagues,” said B-H Superintendent Steve Benson. “She’s very, very professional and wants to be knowledgeable in what she’s doing.”
James, the daughter of Maynard and Jeanne Bosse of Kidder, is a 1995 Britton High School graduate. She received her elementary teaching degree from Northern State University and spent two years as a special education teacher in Roslyn before coming to Britton to teach special ed in 2001. She is married to Brian James, and the couple has four children attending the B-H School District.
“I was undecided between ag, nursing, and teaching my first semester at Northern, but I worked in the special ed room in high school as a senior aide for Deb Hannasch, and seeing her work with the kids and her patience was an inspiration to me.”
Working with special education students, although not part of any grand plan, also helped prepare her for her principal position.
“One of the neat things about special ed is that you get to go into different classrooms and see a wide variety of teaching styles. Everybody has something unique that they bring to their classroom. I’ve had many great inspirations along the way.”
James never had really planned to get into administration. But former principals Marcia Forrester and Shad Storley and Superintendent Kevin Coles encouraged her.
“I really felt that God was taking me that way. It was not anything I ever really planned on, but I had already started working on my masters, just because I felt it was time to move forward. At the same time those three people thought it would be something I would be good at. Things just kind of fell into place.”
She began serving as principal while still working on her master’s degree, and that turned out to be a big plus.
“I didn’t have much of a chance to do job shadowing, but being able to attend classes and being in the principal role at the same time allowed me to put into practice what I was learning in the classroom.”
Although transitioning from peer to supervisor can sometimes be difficult, James embraced the change.
“I already knew the personalities at Britton-Hecla and I think that helped me work with people. I also kind of knew teaching styles from my role as a special ed teacher and that helped.”
The biggest challenge is constant change.
“Education changes constantly and we now have a whole component of technology that I didn’t grow up with,” said James. “Keeping up with that change and doing what is best for kids is a challenge.”
The principal position also has its own unique set of challenges, and Benson said James has responded well.
“Her biggest strength is her demeanor. She doesn’t get too worked up with things. When she needs to be serious she can, and when she needs to be compassionate, she can do that, too. Sometimes your firmness or your compassion can get you in trouble, but you have to be able to have both to be an effective administrator, and Carrie has a good mix.”
The Principal of the Year is also a listener with an open door policy.
“I would hope students and teachers would describe me as caring and always willing to listen. I think I would say I have high expectations and am somewhat of a rule follower, but my door is always open and I’m willing to listen to anybody.”
“She listens to staff whether it’s a big or small issue, treats everybody the same, and follows through on things,” noted Benson. “That’s where respect comes from. If she says she will take care of something, you can trust it’s going to happen. I appreciate that and it’s a testament to her professionalism.”
For James it’s all about the people.
“The most rewarding thing for me is absolutely the people I work with and watching their success in or out of the classroom. Whether it’s winning a state championship, watching a kid solve a math problem, or just having a conversation with a student in the hallway, all of that is very rewarding to me. We also have such a supportive community, and that is a blessing to us.”
James also laughs at the irony of where life has taken her.
“I switched to elementary education because I thought big kids could be intimidating and little kids weren’t scary,” James concluded, “and now I am the middle school and high school principal. It’s kind of funny how life takes you on its own course and how God has put me where he wants me to be.”