Before Greg Schwartz became the principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School in June, his two sons were already students there.
Garrick is a senior. Grant graduated around the time his father was moving into his office.
Greg Schwartz had been an educator in Volusia County for 25 years, starting as a substitute teacher and working his way up to principal at Pathways and South Daytona elementary schools.
He served the bulk of his career at Seabreeze High School as a teacher and a coach.
Schwartz talked to the Observer about how his son surprised him, the challenges of being a principal during a pandemic and what makes FPC special.
What brought you to Flagler Palm Coast?
I was at Seabreeze for 15 years, and then when I got promoted to elementary and was in elementary world, so I had real respect for what the elementary side is, because I didn't have that going in, obviously. But I had been looking for a high school job and this was one that spoke to me.
My kids had gone to school here. Garrick, who is a senior this year, has been here since his freshman year, so I've been to a lot of different sporting events and plays and whatever else you have as a parent just supporting the school. So the community spoke to me and was something that I was very interested in joining.
You live in Ormond Beach and taught at Seabreeze, so how did your sons wind up at FPC?
Garrick has been here since he was a freshman. He applied for a variance as an eighth grader without us knowing, and he got into the IB program. I was surprised because he had never mentioned it to us before, but it was a good move for him.
He decided to get out of the program after his freshman year, which I was fine with. Each of them had to find their own path. But then he stayed here. My older son, Grant, transferred here mid-year during his senior year and graduated from FPC.
Is your wife also in education?
No, we met in education, but she works for a market research company.
What is the best advice you have received about being a good principal?
Listen to your teachers, listen to your students, listen to your parents. Try to get input is the biggest piece. At the end of the quarter we did a survey for our parents to give us feedback on how we're doing in school.
We also asked the admin team to survey the teachers and staff to get input on how they feel we're doing and how we can improve. So to get that feedback and input from the stakeholders is very important.
What are some of the challenges you've had to face as the new principal?
It's been difficult to really get to know people, because we're still at the point where we're doing our meetings through Zoom because our COVID numbers were so high. So we're going to switch starting this month where we'll give option of live where the teachers can come down or be on Zoom.
Up until this point we've done Zoom only, so it's been difficult to really get to be in front of teachers with only the Zoom option because we've had such a quarantining issue. Well, every school has. But we had problems early on in August and September with the numbers so high, and we didn't want to have meetings together, put people out accidentally because of exposure.
Maybe more so than ever before, schools are experiencing teacher shortages. How do you make sure there are enough substitutes to cover classes on a daily basis?
It depends on the day. We have our teacher spots filled, so that's a win. You know at a big school like this, to have all your teacher positions filled is a win, but we do have days where we have struggled to find subs.
And so everyone covers classes. We try not to combine classes, and we very rarely have. But we have either our admin team, our coaches or teachers that are not assigned to students. We all cover.
Are quarantines the main reason?
Well, between that and then other stuff that pops up, like family emergencies. So on top of COVID it's been crazy. The beginning of this year, it's been the craziest I've ever seen. Even last year wasn't near as bad as the beginning of this year, in my opinion, between that and then just life.
You know life doesn't stop because you're in a pandemic. You have other emergencies that you have to cover for. Our teachers have been very flexible and are doing a great job helping cover and doing the things we can to keep our kids moving in the right direction.
How is it different being a principal at such a large school?
I think just the sheer volume of COVID in general. And it's sort of touching more people now than it did before, but again it's a large school. At Seabreeze we had 1,600, 1,700 students. Here we have 2,700. But everyone's been very welcoming and it's just getting to know all the ins and outs and all your people. And that's the hardest part, finding the time to get to know everybody.
What are some needs of the school that you didn't recognize when you started here?
We're not short when it comes to teachers, but we are short when it comes to paraprofessionals. So that's a definite need that we have, and then on certain days, subs. But paraprofessionals is an area of need for sure, and we're seeing that across our district and surrounding districts. They're difficult jobs to fill.
How is teaching today different compared to when you started?
When I started, the teacher would teach up front and the students would take notes and they would learn. Now there's a lot more collaboration, and you really want it more student driven, so more student talk and less teacher talk, which is difficult to do sometimes.
Yes, you have to get the content out, but you really want the students leading, and you want the students taking ownership of their learning, so that's that's a difference from when I first started to where we are now.
How conscious are you of the students' circumstances at home?
We try to look at every situation. Of course there's a standard of rules for a reason, but then you try to dig deeper, because you don't know what the kids are going through. A lot have not been in school for a long period of time because they’re remote students, and you don't know what's happened so it's really important to know the kids.
What’s unique about Flagler Palm Coast?
I think it really is very student driven. One of the neatest things is our SGA is very strong. They do a lot for the school, like all the different pieces that make up the school they're doing in the background. For example, for homecoming they did the entire decorations and they've been doing it for years. You would not have known that this was the school by the decorations and how they had it set up, but that's just one of many, many examples.
I think that is a really, really strong group of students that help lead the school, and they're great kids that do a good job. We had some strong student leadership at Seabreeze, but this is an even bigger group than that that is very impactful across the school.
What have you learned about FPC that you didn't know when you started here in June?
I've learned that people care about each other here a lot, and that the teachers want to be here and the students want to be here. When we had our initial orientation, people were happy to be back at the school. The parents were happy and the students were happy to be back.
And I learned that it's really like a big family. It's a huge family, but they have each other’s back and they're doing the best they can for the kids. So I’m just happy to be part of that family.