LEWIS CENTER — A pair of elementary schools in the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) will be under new leadership this school year as Michael Warren and Dana Kimchi take over as principals at Arrowhead and Johnnycake Corners elementary schools, respectively.
Warren and Kimchi’s hires were approved by the Olentangy Schools Board of Education during its meeting on June 23 after both previous principals accepted new roles within the district. After serving as the principal at Arrowhead for seven years, Bridget McMillen will now serve as a math specialist, while former Johnnycake Corners Principal Peter Stern will now serve as the assistant director of equity and inclusion in the district.
Warren comes to OLSD after most recently serving as the assistant principal at Pittsburgh King in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Prior to his transition into educational administration, Warren held a range of choir director positions at Pittsburgh Public Schools, Avonworth School District, and the University of Pittsburgh among other institutions.
Although new to the district, Warren has started his tenure by putting a heavy emphasis on establishing connections throughout the various communities that make up the Arrowhead Elementary student body in order to ease both his and the students’ transition.
“I think that’s a rewarding thing,” Warren said. “That’s also why I’m a big advocate for going into the communities. We often find folks serving in communities that they don’t really have a connection with. And I know that an uphill battle for me is coming into an area that I’m not familiar with … I have to do extra work to learn these things so that I can be an asset to the kids in the building.”
He added, “I understand that our job goes beyond 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside those four walls at Arrowhead. It really starts with what work you’re willing to put in outside of the building, outside of those contracted hours to make sure that when you’re in the building, your job is smooth, and the transition is easy. So, I take pride in being able to knock on doors with my wife and my niece, who’s only in town for five days, and watch her run around with my soon-to-be kindergarten class. That is so rewarding to me.”
Asked what he hopes to build at Arrowhead, Warren said, “A culture where, at the end of the day, folks know that they’re loved. Folks can make mistakes, know that they are loved, and be challenged to do better. Where folks can succeed, know they are loved, and remain humble. Where folks can have the opportunity to bounce ideas off of one another so we can help catapult everyone else to go and be higher than where they are.
“A culture where, at the end of the day, when students were there, they knew they were loved, respected, and valued … I believe if we establish that culture now, it’s kids from Arrowhead and in the Olentangy community who will go out and be the change we need to see to make this place a place that we want to really call home, and I’m not just talking about central Ohio.”
Kimchi is no stranger to the district, having spent her last seven years serving as the assistant principal at Olentangy Meadows Elementary School after previously teaching in Westerville City Schools. However, like Warren, her focus heading into her first year as a principal is to connect with everyone associated with the school.
“I think the thing I’m looking most forward to in moving to Johnnycake is just building those connections with students, staff, and families,” Kimchi said. “You definitely do that as an assistant principal, but you have someone else to rely on when you’re in that assistant role. I think that being the principal and establishing my own feel, my own vibes in the building, and making connections on a different level is a big priority and goal for me.”
Having spent all 14 years of her educational career at the elementary level, suffice to say Kimchi has grown quite fond of interacting with students at a time when they’re most impressionable. Asked what she enjoys the most about being in elementary schools, Kimchi said she loves the innocence of the students and referred to them as “little sponges” who are excited to be in school and learning.
Of course, when dealing with students who are still learning how to process and express their emotions in addition to the daily academic rigors, not every day goes as expected. But it’s in those moments when Kimchi said teachers and administrators have the greatest opportunity to make an impact on students.
“One thing that I actually enjoyed more than I thought I would as an assistant principal was the tricky times for kids,” she said. “When kids make a mistake or they are having a difficult day, I think that is when we have the most powerful moments at our fingertips. Helping them navigate those situations in a way that validates their feelings still but then ultimately shows them how to handle adversity and get through those tough situations.
“I tell my kids all of the time that even if you made a mistake, my job is to help you get through that and to help you fix it. I think that’s what draws me to the younger kids. They’re just so willing to take on so much new learning, and half of the time they don’t even realize they’re doing it. But they’re learning life along with learning the academics, too.”
Kimchi went on to say she wants to lead with kindness at Johnnycake Corners, and in doing so, create a building that is approachable and accepting to everyone, regardless of what they may be going through. “We’ll meet you where you are, no matter where that is, and help you from there, and I hope to lead by example in doing that,” she said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.