For new school head, leadership comes from experience

New principal takes the reins

  • Jake Toomey will be the new principal at The Discovery School at Four Corners.


  • Jake Toomey will be the new principal at The Discovery School at Four Corners. Here he talks with Lucas Spofford and Alexis Parker at the Academy of Early Learning, where he currently is the principal. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/13/2016 10:44:57 PM

GREENFIELD — Jake Toomey, the principal of the Academy of Early Learning and the school superintendent’s assistant for personnel in Greenfield, is no stranger to taking command.

Though his formal training was in art education, Toomey’s first pass at a leadership role came in the public transit sector.

Just after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he helped run the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s student-operated campus bus service, he took a job managing the regional transit authority’s Northampton garage.

At the same time, he was serving as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard, where he said he received plenty of practice managing complicated systems, exercising everything from time management skills to navigating crisis situations.

Halfway through his time at the PVTA, he was deployed to Iraq for a year.

There, Toomey was second-in-command of a unit running a convoy of detainees to and from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the wake of a torture and abuse scandal surrounding practices at the facility.

“I was sent there just after the scandal, and everything we were doing was under a microscope,” he said. Sometimes they’d need to move hundreds of detainees at once; other times they had to ensure the security of one high-profile prisoner.

After his deployment, he left the Guard to focus on his family, taking on yet another management role: helping raise his three children, all of whom now attend the town’s schools.

Now, Toomey will take the reins of one of the town’s three elementary schools next month, the Discovery School at Four Corners. He replaces longtime principal Suzanne Sullivan, who took a job in Billerica, as the principal of the same elementary school she attended as a child.

Toomey’s been with the district since the beginning of the last school year, starting as an art teacher and splitting his time between the Discovery School and the Math and Science Academy, he said. When the personnel job became available, he traded working at the academy for that.

At the same time, he worked toward completing an administrative practicum under Sullivan at the Discovery School, preparing him for his first principal role at the Academy of Early Learning.

All of those different hats, both in and out of the public education arena, gave him a diverse management background, which he plans to bring to bear in his new role.

“In education, a lot of people who become principals were teachers may not have had the chance to practice a lot of that stuff,” he said. “But especially in the military, you get a lot of practice honing those skills, giving directives and following through on them.”

Communication is also key, he said. “It sounds simple, but it’s really at the core of what a leader can do.”

Toomey said he plans to continue building on the team that Sullivan has established at the Discovery School and refining its programs.

“My intention is to go and learn first,” he said. “In any new leadership role, it’s about learning the operation, seeing how the teachers work, and soaking it all in first. I’m looking forward to diving into this stuff.”

He also looks forward to spending at least his first year as principal with his youngest son, who is going into his final year at the school.

Toomey also worked as an art teacher in a private school in Connecticut and for the North Bloomfield school district before coming to Greenfield.

You can reach Tom Relihan at:

or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

On Twitter, follow @RecorderTom


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