As new John F. Kennedy Elementary School Assistant Principal Michelle Bell hosted a tour throughout the school, she waved into classrooms, spoke to teachers and highlighted facts like how some stairs had times tables or synonyms painted on them.
She also continued what she called the name game, quizzing herself on the names of fifth-graders as they returned to class from recess. Bell and a young boy even high-fived in the hallway after she remembered his name.
“It’s new, and so it’s getting to know a whole new family and a whole new culture,” Bell said an interview. “But it’s been a whole lot of fun and I feel like everyone’s been receptive to me. It’s been a great time.”
While Bell is new to JFK Elementary, she is no stranger to the Great Neck schools. After teaching for two years in Maryland, Bell moved back to Long Island and worked as a teaching assistant at E.M. Baker Elementary School.
This in turn led to her becoming a classroom teacher, Bell said, teaching first-graders and then fifth-graders. She then decided to work as an assistant principal at the Stewart School in Garden City after getting her educational leadership certification from Long Island University.
When asked why she wanted to make the jump from teacher to assistant principal, Bell said that as an administrator, it would be possible to reach more parents, students and teachers while having a wider impact.
“It pained me to think about leaving Great Neck,” Bell said. “This is my home, this is where I grew up, this is where I learned everything I know about teaching, but a job opportunity did present itself and I felt the experience was something I couldn’t pass up.”
Bell said that while academics is important, she said she feels educating “the whole child,” which includes academic, emotional and social learning, is key to success.
Bell also said her experience in “responsive classroom,” which is an educational approach that emphasizes a safe and engaging learning environment, and technology enabled her to come into JFK Elementary, whose culture she described as a warm, communal and engaging one.
Among the initiatives she hopes to implement are building on the mindfulness room, where children can go to feel safer, encouraging a “responsive classroom” among the teachers, and implementing “technology to be able to reach everyone” with schoolwide messages. She also noted that it is important for adults to increase their contact time with students in between class periods.
Bell said she doesn’t see any specific challenges ahead, but that she’s looking forward to working collaboratively with Principal Ron Gimondo and others in the school.
“I think that’s part of our job: being problem solvers, building relationships and being the support that people need, whether it be teachers or students or school monitors,” Bell said.
Ultimately, when asked what she would want to impart to every student, Bell emphasized being “the best you that you can be” and how important it is to care for one another.
“There’s so many things I would say,” Bell said with a laugh. “But I think that would be one of the biggest is be the best you you can be. Make yourself proud and make others proud … And again we want you to be happy, we want you to feel safe, and we want you to learn.”