Matanzas High School's new principal, Kristin Bozeman, grew up in a military family as a self-described "Army brat."
Her father, Howard McGillin Jr., was a JAG officer and her family moved around the country from army base to army base. Bozeman spent Christmas breaks and summers in St. Augustine, where her grandparents lived. And after her father retired from the Army, Bozeman's family settled in St. Augustine as well. Her father is now a judge in the seventh circuit serving Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
Bozeman graduated from the University of Florida and worked as a substitute teacher in the St. Johns County School District while attending graduate school at the University of North Florida. That turned into a full-time position as an English teacher at Nease High School, which began a 17-year career in the St. Johns County School District. She was an assistant principal at four different schools and served two administrative stints in the district office.
Bozeman was hired in July to replace former Matanzas Principal Jeff Reaves, who moved into the district office as Flagler Schools' director of teaching and learning. Bozeman's first day on the job was Aug. 1, two days before teachers reported and nine days before the first day of school.
Early in your career, you went into administration. What factored into that decision?
I think growing up with a father who was in the military and my mother who was a nurse. They lived these lives and had these careers in service to others. And that was always instilled in me, especially with my father's leadership. So, that idea of leadership just really came from him, and that whatever job you're in, whatever position you're in, you can be a leader. You know, you're a leader as a husband, as a wife, as a parent, as a child, as a teacher, at whatever you are. And just taking on that, I've always had that leadership skill.
So, I became a department chair when I was in my second year as an English teacher. I just kind of took on that leadership role saying, 'Hey, guys, let's come together. Let's get things going.' And then I had great mentors who really encouraged me, especially early in my career. I had a really great assistant principal that encouraged me, and he was the one that selected me to be the department chair at age 22. And all along, I've had those mentors that just encouraged me.
When did you decide you wanted to be a principal?
"Ever since I set my sights on being a school leader, being a high school principal was, when I say my dream job, you have that one thing that you put up on the wall, and you just know is like the deepest desire of your heart. And that was for me to be a high school principal."
— KRISTIN BOZEMAN
Ever since I set my sights on being a school leader, being a high school principal was, when I say my dream job, you have that one thing that you put up on the wall, and you just know is like the deepest desire of your heart. And that was for me to be a high school principal.
And so, I had so many opportunities in the St. Johns County School District, but I wasn't there yet. That's a much larger district. They have fantastic leadership development. They have fantastic leaders in that district. And it just was an opportunity here that I wanted to pursue, an opportunity to get to be a high school principal. I very much enjoyed what I was doing in St. Johns County. (Last year) I was working as director for instructional personnel for human resources, which is really interesting work and I really enjoyed it. But this was just the job that I've always wanted. It's been my focus for 15 years of my career.
It's something I've just pursued nonstop since then, and the opportunity to learn a new county and meet new people and get to know a new community was what was attractive to me. Obviously, I love St. Johns County and all the people that I know there, and they made me who I am as a leader, but this was just a phenomenal opportunity.
Did Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt factor in your decision to come here?
When I was an assistant principal at St. Augustine High School (2011-2015), she was my principal. So much of what I learned I got from her. She's brought her tremendous leadership ability to Flagler Schools. And having an opportunity to work with her again, and knowing that I have her support was very important to me.
What has been the biggest challenge in your first month on the job?
It's been challenging starting as late as I did. The position didn't come open until July. My first official day was Aug. 1. So, that was really the biggest challenge, getting up to speed. Fortunately, Mr. Reaves was the previous principal, and he had everything in place staffing-wise. I mean, he really did a wonderful job here, and our administrative team and clerical team, everything was set up and ready to go.
But just having to jump on the merry-go-round while it was already spinning, what I really focused on was taking the time to get to know the community and get to know the school and learn what the systems are. And that Stephen Covey piece of seeking first to understand, that's something I'm focused on and building relationships and learning what makes this place the excellent place that it is.
You were thrown into the fire during the second week of school when an unscheduled alarm went off and the school was locked down. What was that day like?
"Everybody learned a lot that day. Thankfully, everybody was safe. We as a district had a lot of takeaways from that, and fortunately, it was a false alarm. I think we learned how to improve communication, and I think we learned how to coach our kids up and our teachers up on how to respond, but everybody handled that situation really beautifully."
— KRISTIN BOZEMAN on an unscheduled alarm that led to a lockdown at Matanzas
Everybody learned a lot that day. Thankfully, everybody was safe. We as a district had a lot of takeaways from that, and fortunately, it was a false alarm. I think we learned how to improve communication, and I think we learned how to coach our kids up and our teachers up on how to respond, but everybody handled that situation really beautifully.
My first instinct is always going to be safety and so, the alarm goes off. We don't know why it's going off. We're locking the school down. And that was exactly what I said, and that's what we did. And it was the right decision because you just don't know. At the end of the day, my number one job is to keep every single kid and adult and visitor and personnel on this campus safe. And I know it was a tough day, and it was obviously stressful for our students and hard for our staff and faculty and the community and the parents. But again, it's all about safety.
What's the best advice you've received?
The best advice that I received was from one of my mentors, Steve McCormick. He's the principal at Creekside High School. He said, focus on the kids. He said, there's going to be adversity from different directions, and there's going to be good days and bad days. But if you focus your attention on building the relationships with the kids, and focus your energies on the students, it will be the most rewarding thing, and that's been the absolute best advice that I've been given.
How have you applied that advice at Matanzas?
Being a principal, and especially with being a new principal, there's a lot of competing demands for your time and for your attention, and as I'm just going through the day and making my list of where I want to spend my time and energy, it's really helped center me to say, 'OK, where's my student focus for today?'
I have some paperwork to work on, or maybe I have some emails to answer, but what's really important in my work, and what I really should be doing is being out at lunches, talking to the students, interacting with them, getting to know them, building relationships with them, listening to them and hearing from them what they want for their school and what the challenges are. And it's also been helpful for me, and for my personal well being with it, because it's a really tough job. It's a really a tough seat to sit in.