Chester Academy's new principal believes in the power of small schools

Chester. Mr. John Flanagan appreciates the getting to know all of the school's students, their backgrounds, and their day-to-day ups and downs. "That’s the kind of educational philosophy that hones home to me," he said.

| 27 Sep 2019 | 01:05

The start to the school year can be a pretty intimidating time. Students are busy figuring out their schedules, making new friends, and even deciding what extra circulars they want to join.

This year, however, Chester Academy students won’t be alone in their struggle because there’s a new kid on the block, and his name is Mr. John Flanagan.

With former principal Mr. Petrilak vacating his position to fulfill the role of superintendent, many have been left to wonder, just who is this Mr. Flanagan? What are his stances, his beliefs, his qualifications? That’s why The Chronicle asked for a sit-down with the new principal. Here’s what we found out.

First, and most importantly, Mr. Flanagan prides himself in being the father of two children, one in first grade, and one in third. He describes them as being “a lot of fun," and jokingly adds, “They take up a lot of my time." When he comes home after work, he “wants to be the best dad” for his kids as he possibly can be.

The value of a small school

He started his career in education in 2004, as a social studies teacher at Washingtonville High School, where he remained for seven years. He then served as assistant principal at the Tuxedo school district for a little over a year before moving to Monroe-Woodbury High School, where he spent the next seven years as dean and assistant principal.

He's always had an interest in becoming apart of Chester Academy.

"There’s tremendous value in working in a small school," he said. "When you can get to know everyone in the building, get to know all the students, it’s a tremendous advantage in helping them to succeed. When you can get to know their background, their story, be able to tell when their walking through the door if they’re having a good day or a bad day, that’s the kind of educational philosophy that hones home to me.”

When he saw there was an opening at Chester Academy, he said, "It was an opportunity I really wanted to explore.”

The importance of student voices

He believes student voices are extremely important. Student government and board of education meetings are examples of great outlets where students can be heard, he said. But students should be comfortable “in terms of what they’re looking to do,” he said. "If anyone ever wants to talk to me, or Mr. Aguilar (the assistant principal), or our counselors, the door is always open.”

Mr. Flanagan is also a big supporter of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiative, something that he believes helps students to become problem solvers and future leaders.

Shifting gears towards a heavier topic, Mr. Flanagan was very vocal about the safety of faculty, staff, and students.

“Safety is everybody's responsibility,'' something that “we all take an active role in," he said.

If a student sees something, they should say something, he said, to ensure Chester stays the secure and safe school that it is. He said the school’s surveillance system, and its involvement with local law enforcement, especially the school resource officer Rick Perez.

“The most important thing, which I take very seriously, is the safety of our school," he said.

So there you have it folks -- a family man with years of experience in education, with a vision for a school where students feel empowered while building leadership skills in an environment that’s safe for all. Chester Academy seems to have gotten the full package in its new principal.

Editor's note: Jacob Mott is a high school student at the Chester Academy.

"I wouldn't have been where I am now if Mr. Flanagan didn't help me out with certain situations throughout school. These kids are lucky to have an amazing person help them learn and grow through the years!" -- Brianna Nonnon