Heath Elementary’s new principal no stranger to town

  • Heath Elementary Principal Jesse Porter-Henry RECORDER STAFF/DIANE BRONCACCIO—

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/23/2016 9:33:28 PM

HEATH — Heath Elementary School’s new principal, Jesse Porter-Henry, is no stranger to the school or the town.

Porter-Henry grew up here and was a Mohawk High School student when Heath Elementary School opened its doors, 20 years ago. His mother was one of the Heath Elementary School’s first teachers.

After serving as assistant principal of the Mohawk Trail Regional School for the past two years, Porter-Henry has taken a principal/teaching position at Heath.

Most of Porter-Henry’s mornings are spent teaching math and science to the school’s Grade 4 through 6 classes. He also teaches physical education to all classes and does most of his school administrative duties in the afternoons.

The school is in its fourth week of classes, and Porter-Henry is looking forward to innovations this school year.

A new student outdoor eating area has been set up, after the suggestion was brought up by school students.

Dance teacher Matha Lively will continue to offer Lively Dance as a Heath after-school program, but this MCAS top-performing school will also be offering a creative writing after-school program, and is building a trapeze program, with Arlie Hart and the Circus of Hope program.

“The students and the community will be able to take lessons,” he said.

Enrollment drop

This year’s enrollment fell from about 50 students to 31. With student enrollment dropping, residents and School Committee officials have been meeting almost weekly since January, to research ways to keep quality education at an affordable price. Options being considered have included Heath’s joining another elementary school district and possibly reconfiguring the pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary school.

When asked how he will steer the school through an uncertain time, Porter-Henry said: “My job isn’t to figure out the school’s future. My job is to run the best school with what we have. The staff and I will do our best job for the best school possible,” he said.

Heath School has won STARS (Science to Achieve Results) federal grants in the last few years, and Porter-Henry is hoping to secure another grant this year. If Heath gets another STARS grant, it will be used by students to study water systems, water usage, and water eco-systems. Among his goals for this school year, Porter-Henry would like to have the school staff develop a shared vision on professional development so that the whole staff has a say in it, and a vested interest on the success of the outcome.

Another goal is to keep the school innovative. Porter-Henry said Heath was one of the first schools to use Responsive Classroom teaching principals and to start a string instrument program for the younger classes. Also, the annual school play attracts participation of students from other schools and standing-room-only performances.

Porter-Henry said one of his jobs is to figure out what advantages there are for a school with small enrollment and combined classes. “We have more student/instructor time,” he said. “It’s much easier to go on field trips. And all our classes have gone on all of the hiking trips that have been built by our students over time,” he said.

After getting his bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado, Porter-Henry taught math and geology at Northwood School in New York state. He worked with high school and middle school students in Costa Rica, running community service, language and adventure-based programs. He then came back to Franklin County, where he worked at the Academy of Charlemont for five years as athletic director and as a math and science teacher. He taught chemistry at the Hampshire Regional School, and served there as interim middle school assistant principal before going on to the Mohawk Trail Regional School.

Porter-Henry’s family lives in Chesterfield. He has two children, ages 2½ and 5.


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