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Honey brings fresh set of eyes to McNary

John Honey - McNary High Principal
John Honey

Of the Keizertimes

McNary’s new principal is clearly a product of the Salem-Keizer school district.

Though born in Montana, John Honey went to middle and high school in Salem. After graduating from South Salem High School, he attended the University of Oregon where he majored in journalism.

When it was time to begin his teaching career, Honey turned to a familiar presence. Wes Ediger, who hired Honey for his first teaching job at North Salem, was also principal when Honey graduated from South Salem.

The former English teacher and coach also served as vice principal at South Albany High School and North Salem before assuming the principalship at Walker Middle School. Seven years ago Honey was hired as principal at North Salem High School.

Earlier this year Honey was one of three principals who suddenly faced in-district transfers: former McNary principal Ken Parshall is now at McKay while former McKay principal Cynthia Richardson is now at North Salem. Like Honey, Parshall and Richardson were hired as principals seven years ago by the district.

The Keizertimes sat down with Honey to ask him a few questions:

Keizertimes (KT): How will McNary be impacted by the district’s budget cuts?

John Honey (JH): Well, we’ll be impacted the same way all the other schools are impacted … I don’t think you’re going to see, for this next school year, I don’t think you’ll see a big change. Fortunately our school board has been fiscally responsible in how they’ve managed the budget, and the kind of decisions they’ve made. Granted, this big nine percent cut across the state, I think that’s the average number I heard, everybody was surprise by how big it was. But our district was able to respond to it in terms of attrition and administrative transfers and some cooperative agreements with the classified and certified bargaining teams. So we’re not laying people off. We’re not cutting any programs at the high school that I’m aware of for this coming school year.

KT: Any changes to students-to-teacher ratios?

JH: I really don’t think so. We’re not eliminating positions. Perhaps the biggest challenge we’re facing is an increase in graduation requirements. The state did that a couple of years ago, so we’ve got to make sure we’re getting kids to pass core classes the first time because if we get a high failure rate you need more bodies to help kids recover credits, and we’re not going to get (those bodies). So I think there’s more pressure, a greater sense of urgency, to really make sure we’re doing the right things by kids the first time they walk into freshman English or algebra I. We can’t let them fail. We’ve got to do a good job with that, so we don’t put ourselves behind the eight ball.

KT: How does your leadership perspective differ from former McNary principal Ken Parshall?

JH: I don’t know if it’s a lot different in terms of philosophy. Leadership styles are a little bit different, I think … If I had all the answers, every kid would be graduating, and every kid would pass their OAKS Test, you know, and all the problems of the world would be resolved at North Salem High School, because I wasn’t holding anything back … I think after a while you just get to a point where a new set of eyes on some old problems is not a bad thing.

KT: What’s the best piece of advice you received on being a principal?

JH: The best bit of advice I got, and I really got it from two people whom I really admire – Wes Ediger and then John DeBois, who was principal at South Albany High School. Both of them, 15 years apart, said lead by example. Do what you say you’re going to do, and hold people accountable to what you need them to do. Be real clear and honest with people. Wes said you can tell people what you think they want to hear, or you can tell them how you really feel. You’ve got to live with either one. So I’m pretty upfront with people. No hidden agendas.

KT: Your first principal job was at Walker Middle School and then your first high school principalship was at North Salem High School. This is your second high school principalship. So how are you a different principal now then you were seven years ago?

JH: The biggest thing I’ve learned about being a principal is that even though the job title kind of says “decision maker,” I have the latitude to get input from so many other people and so many other sources. I think as a brand new administrator, when I was a high school vice principal, I thought I had to be real decisive, you know, respond to everything immediately. In the last 15 years I’ve learned it’s okay to say, “I’m not really sure about that. Let me go get the experts. Let me go get more information. Let’s think about it. Let’s come together later and talk about all the different options because you might have some ideas that I didn’t think about.”

Whereas before, because of that little bit of insecurity as a new leader, where you want to make all the decisions right away so you don’t look like you’re not sure. What I’ve discovered is it’s okay to not be sure; it’s just not okay to be wrong. So I’d rather wait and get the right answer rather than just jump on it.

KT: What’s your game plan for your first year here?

JH: Get to know the staff. Get to know the kids. Become part of the culture of this school and the community. Introduce myself to the school leadership team, you know, our department chairs and site council leader and other administrators, coaches.

Once the kids are here that’s when the work will get started, really, in terms of kind of getting to know what’s going on. Just watching and listening and starting to share my vision of what I think schools should look like. I really don’t have any plans to revamp something, because I haven’t seen how it works, yet.