From left, Principal Patrick McCusker and Assistant Principal Russell Valentine stand with their new assistant principals, Kim Willard and Kieran O'Connell, at Franklin High School Aug.13. _- Original Credit: Jim Book/submitted photo
From left, Principal Patrick McCusker and Assistant Principal Russell Valentine stand with their new assistant principals, Kim Willard and Kieran O'Connell, at Franklin High School Aug.13. _- Original Credit: Jim Book/submitted photo (HANDOUT)

Students at Franklin High School will not be the only ones learning something new this upcoming school year, which starts Aug. 24 for Baltimore County. Kim Willard and Kieran O'Connell started their roles as assistant principals this summer and both said that they plan to learn from the Franklin community and faculty as they begin their new positions.

Willard and O'Connell are joining Principal Patrick McCusker and Assistant Principal Russell Valentine on Franklin's administrative team.

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Willard and O'Connell are already familiar with the Franklin community, which is a great strength that adds to their roles as administrators, said Patrick McCusker, Franklin's principal.

"They both have deep roots in the community. So they understand the Franklin way, if you will," McCusker said.

Willard is following in her family's footsteps at Franklin, as her father was an assistant principal and her stepmother was an assistant principal and later a principal at Franklin in the 1980s.

Willard came from Pikesville High School, where she was an assistant principal last year.

Prior to Pikesville, she taught English and was the department chair at Hereford High School for 10 years. Willard has been either a teacher or administrator for Baltimore County Public Schools for the past 25 years.

O'Connell was a physical education teacher at Franklin Middle School for three years and has been working at Franklin High School for the past five years, first as a P.E. teacher and then as the P.E. department chair since 2011.

"They're also both very committed to supporting both students and teachers. They have great work ethics … they jumped right in and started picking up whatever needed to be done," McCusker said.

O'Connell has filled in as an assistant principal for the past two years at Franklin High School whenever there was a gap in administrative staff, said Russell Valentine, assistant principal at Franklin.

"We didn't have time to train people for that, so we needed someone who could come in and hit the ground running," Valentine said.

O'Connell said he already has experience with disciplining and working with students, so right now he is learning how a school is run. The biggest challenge of working as an assistant principal, he said, will be working with the whole school and not just one department.

"I think my goal is pretty simple: to be an everyday learner, to try and get better every day and to try and be a hard worker," O'Connell said.

The key to being a good educational leader, he said, is to ask questions and listen to the students, parents and community. One of his goals is to be able to work with teachers to help them sharpen their instructional skills in the classroom, O'Connell said.

"I'm just looking forward to working with [faculty] in a different capacity. Hopefully I can learn something from them and they can learn something from me," O'Connell said.

In terms of his relationship with his students, O'Connell said, there is a great deal of respect that goes both ways.

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"He knows the name of almost every student in the building … Everyone takes phys. ed. and he's the chair, so he's gotten to know just about every student, which is a real bonus because when he needs to work with students there is already rapport built in," McCusker said.

As an assistant principal, O'Connell said he will be working with the school on a larger scale and will have a greater capacity to help more students.

"I believe in kids. I think they can accomplish great things and I'm just here to help them reach their goals," O'Connell said.

Willard said she thinks her 23 years of classroom experience will help her give insight to teachers as an assistant principal.

"I spent many, many years in the classroom … I'm very much about classroom instruction. I feel like I'm always going to be a teacher at heart," Willard said.

Willard said she has "helpful intentions" and a "toolbox" of teaching techniques to offer teachers at Franklin. She said she wants to support teachers and be there to help them solve different problems in the classroom.

Willard has collected her tools of strategizing lesson plans and encouraging student participation from experience and observation, she said.

"I learn from every teacher that I observe and every classroom that I'm a part of," Willard said.

Building a relationship with the teachers takes time, but Willard said that it is a key part of her job.

"[Willard is] definitely instrumental in terms of understanding what it takes to be a good teacher," Valentine said.

Willard is a good communicator and clearly expresses what she needs students to know, Valentine said. He said that he thinks the students will respect and connect with Willard.

"I think they'll realize early that if she says she's going to do something for you, it's going to be taken care of," Valentine said.

When Willard was at Pikesville High School, she said, the school was going through an administration change as well as a construction project, which exposed her to different situations that helped her gain a wealth of experience. Willard said she had to work through circumstances all at once that others might confront over the course of an entire career.

Willard was thrust into many different roles very quickly, Valentine said, but faculty at Pikesville told him that she handled it well.

"She's one of those people who prefer to stay busy, so I think she'll do very well here," Valentine said.

Willard said she is excited to join the team at Franklin. Although she never attended Franklin as a student, it feels like a familiar place because of all the stories her parents told her about their own experiences as assistant principals, she said.

"I grew up around a dinner table hearing about the stories of Franklin High School," Willard said.

Willard said she can remember her parents describing the camaraderie among the staff and the desire of administrators and staff members to actively work to solve problems with the community.

"My immediate goal is that I want to get to know as many students and community members as possible and as quickly as possible," Willard said.

Willard and O'Connell both have traits that administrators need, Valentine said.

"What it really comes down to [is] you want confident people ... they have to have the right attitude in terms of wanting to take on responsibility," Valentine said.

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