In baseball, catchers have to take in the whole field while never losing sight of individual players, in order to help lead the team from behind home plate. It's a context to keep in mind when getting to know new Harbor Springs Middle School principal Brad Plackemeier-- who was a catcher in college and the minor league-- because it exemplifies his leadership style.
"We had 45 applicants from six states and one from China," said Harbor Springs superintendent Mark Tompkins. "We had 14 first round interviews which we narrowed down to four finalists for a second round with a committee of parents, teachers, administrators and members of the Board of Education. Brad was our first choice by a landslide. He absolutely stood out as an innovator in supporting staff, building a safe and positive school environment, and creating a learning community."
A teacher turned administrator with 11 years combined experience as a middle and high school principal, Plackemeier said he was drawn to this district because of it offer an unique ability to connect with every student.
Plackemeier, who will be moving to Michigan from McPherson, Kansas in early July, noted small class sizes mean big opportunities.
"Middle school is a time that bridges the gap between elementary and high school. It's a three year opportunity to really figure out how to make every kid successful. Every student comes in with different needs, differents strengths and challenges. The size of Harbor Springs Middle School really appealed to me because of how personalized we can make everything," Plackemeier said in an interview with this paper.
Growing up in a small town in Missouri, the new principal added that both he and his wife were eager to embrace a similar community to raise their own three elementary-age children.
"We know some people who grew up in the area, and they always spoke so highly of it that when this job opened up, we decided I had to apply, Plackemeier said. "When I was a middle school principal for six years, I had about 500-550 kids in my building, and I tried to really know each and every one of them. I'm really looking forward to extending that same philosophy here."
Plackemeier is currently serving as the McPherson High School principal, a position his superintendent requested he fill when the former administrator moved away.
"They wanted stability, and I could make the transition smooth because I already knew the students from their middle school years," he said. "It's given me some great insight about how our work in the middle school actually plays out at the high school level."
Prior to becoming a principal, Plackemeier spent years in the classroom, teaching every grade level from Kindergarten through senior year of high school. The bulk of his teaching was at the middle school level (math and physical education) in a K-8 building. During those years, Plackemeier also served as the head baseball coach and assistant football coach.
"We moved to Colorado ("pre-kids") and I became the Dean of Students and athletic director in Leadville," Plackemeier said. "When we started a family we wanted to move closer to home, so I took my first job as a middle school principal in Ava, Kansas before moving on to McPherson."
Now, the family is ready to settle down and grow strong roots, he noted, and Harbor Springs seems like an ideal fit on professional and personal levels.
"I'm certainly not coming in with a 'my way or the highway' attitude because this is already a high performing district. Instead, I'm looking forward to getting in and talking to people. I'm excited to hear about what's working well and what are areas we can continue to improve."
Plackemeier's resume is stacked with positive buzz words from his work at both the high school and middle school levels. He helped restructure school days to bring in professional learning communities; designed a core advisory program where teachers met with students on a daily basis for citizenship and post secondary education; designed a comprehensive positive behavior reward program, and more.
"I have always looked at middle school as a sort of watered down high school situation. We want our students to be ready for those last four years when the time comes, both academically and on the socio-emotional side. That comes, in part, with a strong sense of school spirit and understanding that we're all there for the same goals.
"It's important to be visible and talk to the kids, and it's also important to understand that the nuances of the building will change every year. That's what happens with highly personalized education; one class of students will have different needs and strengths and what we do with those students shouldn't be the same as a class that comes to middle school with an entirely different makeup of students."
Plackemeier said as a high school principal, he saw first hand how many students "have no idea" what they'd like to do when they grow up...and that's okay. Middle school, he said, is a perfect time in life to begin exploring interests and passions.
"I love exploratories and electives because if a student hasn't found that subject yet that they really want to come to school for, there are chances to find that spark. I believe in that, in figuring out what kids are interested in and supporting those offerings."
He also noted in Harbor Springs, he was excited to hear about outdoor education opportunities like kayaking, cross country skiing and more. He stressed extracurricular options for the arts and athletics, plus electives like robotics, coding, and innovative programs like the high school's aviation partnership all point to this district being ahead of the curve in helping to find ways for students to feel success and growth.
Always catching chances for students to have a sense of accomplishment is a great way to encourage a positive school climate, he noted.
"At the end of the day, we want all of our students to head into high school, and eventually into the larger world, ready and with a stronger sense of self. We want our growth models to be constructed in a way that all students can achieve success, feel seen and have the right fit for in a highly personalized education."
The Harbor Springs Board of Education approved hiring Plackemeier in a unanimous vote on Monday, June 12. He will finish out his contract with McPherson High School (through June) and then move his family to Harbor Springs.