by Daisy Creager | Staff Writer
Elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college. Three transitions that mark changes in a student’s expected maturity, responsibility and workload. Each transition can breed nervousness and confusion as students learn to adjust to their new roles and surroundings. However, some students in the senior class of 2014 and principal John Mehlbrech have had the unique experience of sharing this entire journey.
After working as a history teacher at James Madison High School for seven years, Mehlbrech worked as an assistant principal at various schools in the district before becoming the principal of Tejeda Middle School in 2006. When the former principal of Johnson left in 2010, the position was offered to Mehlbrech.
“Working at Tejeda I got to know the community very well, and when the opportunity came open I was approached to see if I’d be interested in becoming the principal at Johnson,” Mehlbrech said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to see these kids grow and mature, and it’s very unique for a high school principal to be able to do that. I get to see all you guys grow up.”
After helping the students ease into middle school, Mehlbrech was able to transition with them to high school.
“I’ve been cool with Mr. Mehlbrech since like seventh grade, and I thought it was cool when he moved up with us because we didn’t have to meet a new principal or anything,” senior Darian McElhannon said. “It made moving up a lot more comfortable.”
According to Mehlbrech, the changes in the number and maturity level of the students between the schools has changed his role as a principal.
“At a middle school you have time to kind of reflect on what you’re doing, you have time complete your ideas for it more,” Mehlbrech said. “Here you’ve got to keep moving, and things are just happening all the time. I feel that at the high school I have become more of a manager than an instructional leader, and that’s not what I want to be. I want to be an instructional leader.”
While the position at both schools has advantages and disadvantages, both positions are rewarding, Mehlbrech said.
“In a middle school you’re dealing with half the number of kids, half the number of parents, and half the number of problems,” Mehlbrech said. “It’s kind of like carrying a quart of water and then carrying a gallon of water. It’s a little bit heavier, it’s a little bit harder, but the refreshment is still there. It’s still a lot of fun.”
Over the past seven years, Mehlbrech has been able to watch the seniors who went to Tejeda grow and find their identities during a very crucial period of their lives.
“It’s pretty cool,” Mehlbrech said. “You know what they were like in middle school, as adolescents trying to figure out who they are and all that where now they’re setting goals and you can see their accomplishments. They’ve grown physically and mentally and you get to see that change and be proud of them. It’s like raising my own kids because I’ve had y’all for so long.”
For the students, Mehlbrech’s consistent encouragement has been a source of support during their time with him.
“He [has] pushed us to strive to be the best people that we could be, to get good grades, and to do the best we can in sports and electives,” senior Sarah Fish said.
According to Fish, her view of Mehlbrech has changed as she has gotten older.
“When you’re in sixth grade you think ‘I don’t want to go to the principal’s office because it’s scary’ or whatever and now it’s more like we respect him but we’re not scared of him because we know what he stands for and his expectations for us,” Fish said.
For Mehlbrech, watching the seniors walk the stage will be bittersweet.
“Not all of the 640 seniors I have came from Tejeda,” Mehlbrech said. “Quite a few of them did though. I’m extremely proud of the fact that I’ve been able to be involved for so long, that it is kind of a special deal. It’s like seeing the work you’ve done go out there and be so successful. You feel so good about it. They’re ready, and I know that they’re ready, because of the time that we’ve been with each other.”
As his students head off into the world, Mehlbrech has advice for them.
“Life is ever changing, so be ready to be flexible,” Mehlbrech said. “Always focus on what you want to do and don’t let the distractors take you away from it. Keep focused on what you’re doing in life, be flexible for when things change, and just do what you’ve been doing. You guys have gotten a very good, solid foundation and I believe each and every one of you is going to be successful.”