Incoming Brunswick High School principal promises to listen first, act later

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BRUNSWICK — Next year, there will be many new faces at Brunswick High School, but none of them are likely to draw as much notice as Art Abelmann, who will replace Donna Borowick as principal.

Brunswick School Department Superintendent Paul Perzanoski announced Abelmann will be taking the reins for under a two-year contract, beginning July 1.

Abelmann, who has had experience as a principal and an assistant principal in Aspen, Colo., and three separate New Hampshire towns, said he hopes to finish his professional career in Brunswick.

“At this point in my career, I’m trying to find a place to settle down,” he said.

Abelmann said students and parents shouldn’t expect to see any big changes at the high school for a while.

“I think the first year really is dedicated to building relationships with the folks in the building, gaining trust, and I don’t anticipate doing anything with any major impact without valid input from members of the academic community,” he said. “The first part of the job is listen, listen, listen. Not just to listen, but to hear what people say and gain a strong understanding of what’s important.”

Abelmann arrives with a bit of professional baggage. He is coming off a contract-gone-sour at Aspen High School in Colorado.

In November, Abelmann resigned without warning 16 months into a two-year contract; his abrupt departure left members of that community speculating about his decision.

Abelmann said the departure was due to a combination of a death in his family, and finding himself at odds with an entrenched school mindset.

“It was certainly a mismatch,” he said. “They hired me as an agent of change. … It became clear that we just weren’t on the same page. … The faculty was not interested in change, and that was how it had been billed to me.”

Now, said Abelmann, he is looking forward to bringing his enthusiasm and experience to Brunswick High School, which he described as a strong performer.

“What’s nice about Brunswick is it seems like there’s nothing critical that needs to be fixed immediately,” he said. “The school runs fairly effectively.”

Abelmann emphasized the importance of providing opportunities to all students, whether they are underachievers or overachievers.

“I believe that every student who walks through the front door should be made to feel that they belong,”  he said. “We should reinforce that feeling and not let kids slip through the cracks.”

According to Perzanoski, Abelmann has a bachelor of arts degree from Dartmouth College; a master’s in business administration from Babson College; principal certification from Plymouth State University, and attended Harvard Graduate School at the Principal’s Center.

Abelmann has his own views on what makes a good education. In particular, he said, he favors a comprehensive approach to teaching.

“Brunswick’s (test) results are pretty solid as it is, based on the data,” he said. “I am not a big fan of standardized testing. I think it does a disservice to a certain population of students. If teachers are engaging with kids on the subject matter, kids will be able to engage in critical thinking.”

While he said he recognizes the need to keep abreast of trends that bring technology into the classroom, he also said it has to make sense.

“Technology is something we need to embrace – as long as we can prove it leads to student engagement,” Abelmann said. “But technology for technology’s sake doesn’t lead to students learning better.”

He also said he supports a movement in education to make academic classrooms less academic.

“Student engagement is the big piece. The days of standing in front of the classroom and lecturing for 60 minutes or 80 minutes and having kids take notes and regurgitate them is a thing of the past,” he said.

“The expression is ‘chalk and talk.’ We need to get away from that,” Abelmann said. “For students to move toward the critical process of decision making, they have to demonstrate critical thinking in many ways. It takes some creative teaching and some creative planning. It also takes an active environment.”

His first priority, he said , will be to open learn more about Brunswick High School and the town, where he will be renting a house.

Abelmann said that, at other schools, he has hosted a forum with parents to discuss education issues on a monthly basis, a practice he would like to continue in Brunswick.

“I function with a total open-door policy,” he said. “I’m there to serve the community.”

For parents, students, and faculty who will be meeting him for the first time, Abelmann said he has high hopes.

“I look forward to transitioning this summer and really getting off to a good start in the fall, and hearing and watching what goes on,” he said. “I want to be as supportive as possible to as many people as possible.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.