An interview for a job is a two-way street and a stop sign along the way can end the process in a hurry. When Melanie Nowak sat down for her interview to become the next principal at Dexter High School, she not only didn’t encounter a stop sign but even a yield sign never showed up. It was all green lights – on both sides of the road.
While a company or school district is trying to get to know the job applicant, the applicant also is learning about the company or school district. Just like the person doing the interview, the interviewee is trying to figure out if this is going to be the right fit. For Nowak, it fit like a glove.
Nowak was named principal at Dexter High School and will be replacing longtime DHS Principal William “Kit” Moran, who announced his retirement from Dexter schools earlier this year.
“I’ve actually been following Dexter for the last few years,” says Nowak. “I’ve been drawn to Dexter because of DCS’s commitment to learner-centered decision making and innovative programming. With the initiation of so many different learning paths and the integration of research-based teaching and learning practices, Dexter students really have the best educational experiences available to them.
“In addition to the district and building-wide programming offered, the Dexter teaching staff is the strongest there is. I’m excited for my two little guys (she has two sons – Ryan, 6, and Evan, 3) to have the Dexter schooling experience. Plus, having an amazing ice cream shop downtown sweetened the deal for me.”
Before she takes Ryan and Evan down to the DQ for a Blizzard, Nowak already knew that Dexter was a school district in which “decisions were made through a student-centered lens.”
“With the programming that was offered, it was apparent that Dexter administration and staff continually seek to improve and adjust to ensure that each and every child is provided with the best possible experience to fit their unique needs,” she said.
Like everything else, the role of a high school principal has changed – especially in the last year. Nowak says it’s important for a high school principal to be zeroed in and focused on the pulse of the student body and staff.
“We need to look out for each other and take care of one another,” she says. “In addition to the mountain of stressors that high school may bring, the pandemic has brought more fears, worries, and responsibilities to many. Mental health and wellness must be a focus for all. Frequent wellness checks for staff and students need to take place and be a priority for the administration. Students are much more than test scores and GPAs – we must take care of our kids in every aspect.”
Nowak is a big believer in educating the whole student. She wants to help push students to specialize in different academic studies while nurturing and supporting and encouraging their passions, drivers, skills, talents, and desires.
“Youth is the time to figure out what inspires oneself,” she says. “Kids need to figure out what makes them happy, what they’re interested in, what talents they possess, and what they believe in. We need to give them room to do so. Too often we smother talents, passions, and interests with good intentions – we tell students what they should do, we tell students what they’re good at, we tell students what the right opinion is. Instead, we need to give our kids space to think and feel for themselves and then gently guide them towards success. We are their safety net – not their mold.”
A native of Toledo, Nowak attended Ida High School and earned a degree in mathematics and English at Siena Heights University and later earned a Masters in Educational Leadership and Administration from Concordia University.
After teaching high school math and English for 10 years, Nowak became an elementary principal and then a middle school principal.
She is currently the Career and Innovation Coordinator for Farmington Public Schools providing leadership of the district’s Career Technical Programming. She says she has had the opportunity to work with amazing teams of teachers on innovative projects and initiatives.
“We studied student agency, positioning, and student-led inquiry projects and also started the initial planning for innovative learning spaces in each of the middle school buildings,” she says. “I was also able to work with the CTE department and collaborate with amazing CTE teachers on creating new programming for the district. While in the curriculum coordinator role, I was honored to be involved in bringing EMT, Cybersecurity, and NAF programming to the district. Applicable curriculum is instrumental in student success.”
During her years as a student, Nowak says she was fortunate to have had many influential teachers throughout her childhood. However, the most influential educators she has been around have come into her life during her professional career.
“It’s always important to surround yourself with people who will encourage you to better yourself, to learn, to improve, to grow,” she says. “Never stop learning and take the risks.”