Purvis is Pa. High School Principal of the Year

February 19, 2006|By DON AINES


As a student at Chambersburg Area Senior High School in the early 1970s, a career as a physical education teacher held a lot of appeal for Barry Purvis.

"When I was in high school, I wanted to coach and teach physical education for the rest of my life," Purvis said last week. "Being an athlete like I was, it seemed like a perfect match for me."

Purvis, who ran track and played football, went on to get a degree in health and physical education from East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University, returning to the district to coach and teach, but along the way, his goals and career path changed.

Instead of teaching at the school, he now is its principal, and his performance in that role was recognized last week when he was named High School Principal of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals.


"We're looking for proven leadership and the ability to lead change," said Kevin Fillgrove, principal of Ephrata (Pa.) Middle School and chairman of the association's awards committee. "Dr. Purvis is really outstanding in those areas."

Purvis credited former teachers such as Skip Shatzer and Jerry Keyser with kindling his interest in the profession and former Faust Junior High School Principal Thomas Stouffer with putting him on the road to becoming an administrator.

Now in his third year, Purvis is in the midst of change, as the school year began with the addition of a ninth period and half-day attendance for district students at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center.

"Academically, we really need to do better," Purvis said. One aim of the scheduling change is to better integrate the district's vocational students academically with the rest of the student population by having them at their home school the entire year instead of one semester, he said.

These changes have not been without criticism, but Purvis said the school needs to raise the academic performance of all students. The school, like many others in the state, is on a Pennsylvania Department of Education school improvement list, in this case because a subgroup of about 40 students failed to meet state testing standards, he said.

"You're held hostage to some extent by the state, but that's the way it is ... No child will be left behind," he said.

With a large and diverse population of about 1,800 students in three grades, Chambersburg has more subgroups, based on factors such as economic status, ethnicity and learning disabilities, than smaller schools, Purvis said.

When he took over the helm at the high school, Purvis said, he took steps to improve discipline and academic rigor.

"We developed a climate that's positive so our teachers can teach and our children can learn," he said, adding that the journey is far from over. "This is a big ship in the ocean ... and they take a long time to turn around."

"Dr. Purvis is endowed with an infectious personality, which he used quite well in instantly changing the high school climate and culture into a more positive place," Superintendent Edwin Sponseller wrote in a letter endorsing his nomination.

Last week, Sponseller also noted that Purvis was principal at Chambersburg Area Middle School in 2002 when it was designated a National Blue Ribbon School.

Purvis sees more challenges ahead. This week, the school board will discuss the future of the district's secondary schools, having recently purchased land in Greene Township for a new building.

Continuing to adjust to the new schedules, improving tests scores, dealing with a rapidly growing student population and reconstruction of Trojan Stadium are just a few of the other challenges the principal, faculty, staff, students and taxpayers face.

In the meantime, Purvis now is in the running later this year for the Principal of the Year Award from the MetLife/National Association of Secondary School Principals.

"I really believe Dr. Purvis is going to give us a strong candidate for another award," Fillgrove said. Pennsylvania administrators have fared well for national honors in recent years, he said.

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