Tom Rowland takes the helm at Grand Canyon School

Tom Rowland promoted to principal of Grand Canyon School, Jan. 2016. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

Tom Rowland promoted to principal of Grand Canyon School, Jan. 2016. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - To kick off the new year, Assistant Principal Tom Rowland stepped into a new role at Grand Canyon School (GCS), taking over as principal after former principal Javier Abrego took a leave of absence.

"Dr. Abrego had been a superintendent for several years and the board felt like there needed to be a change and Dr. Abrego had some other opportunities, so he has left and they have asked me to be the principal," Rowland said.

Abrego took his leave of absence at the end of the fall semester and is currently spending time with family in the Chicago area.

GCS Superintendent Shonny Bria announced Rowland's promotion in December. Rowland said the school is not certain if Abrego plans to return.

In addition to his duties as principal, Abrego had been acting as athletic director for the school. For now, GCS secretary Rosa Velazquez and GCS English Language Director Cyndi Moreno will be acting as athletic directors for the school, according to Rowland.

"Without (Abrego) here we're kind of short handed," Rowland said. "So the school secretary, who will do anything in the world for this school, and Cyndi Moreno, who is the same way - they've volunteered to take over that responsibility to make sure all of our athletic programs continue."

This is Rowland's first year at the school, however, he has more than 43 years experience as an administrator, teacher, assistant principal and principal.

Rowland and Abrego worked together previously and Rowland had accepted the assistant principal position at the invitation of Abrego. Rowland said Abrego was familiar with his skills and was confident in his abilities. It was decided that Rowland would manage the middle and high school and Abrego would take care of the elementary school.

"I've been a high school and junior high principal for many years and he asked me to take (those responsibilities). So it kind of just fell into place anyways," Rowland said.

The transition to principal was not difficult for Rowland.

"I enjoy working and being in a school house," he said. "It's a great opportunity and it's what I do best. We all have our calling and I think I have the ability to work with students and parents and have success. I hope it continues here."

For the remainder of the school year Rowland said he plans to focus on student achievement. This year, GCS implemented the Beyond Textbook (BT) curriculum and has been working to teach to the standards and improve its academic ratings.

The school recently began implementing its re-teach classes and added a half period at the school.

"We've put in a new period, the re-teach period, so we're now having seven and a half periods a day," Rowland said.

The re-teach classes are designed to help students master math and language arts curriculum and are combined with weekly formative testing.

"If we're not doing something right we use that period to restructure and if we are doing something right we use that period to enhance it," Rowland said.

According to Rowland, the re-teach period is off to a good start.

"It went super well, we were all amazed at how well the students adapted to it and took to the new schedule and how excited they are that we want to do this," he said.

Rowland said the response from parents has been positive as well.

"So far so good," he said.

In addition to the re-teach classes school administrators are asking teachers and staff to attend Teacher Professional Development Days.

The development days focus on continued learning for teachers and staff to ensure teachers and staff understand how to implement and teach the BT curriculum.

"We call it the 'Phantom Academy' since we're the Phantoms," Rowland said. "We're a BT school and we re-scheduled so BT can come in and work with us on this re-teach acceleration period and give us guidelines. So we can have the instruction on how to always grow and be better at the re-teach model."

The Jan. 6 Teacher Development Day was canceled due to weather and road conditions. It is re-scheduled for Jan. 20.

In addition to improving student achievement, Rowland said the school also plans to take part in the 2016 National Park Service centennial celebrations.

"We want to be a part of the national celebration," Rowland said. "We're the only high school and school, k-12, in a national park. So we want some bragging rights. A couple of our students were in the Rose Parade, on the centennial float, but we want all of our students to take part in this. It doesn't come around very often - about once every hundred years."

Overall, Rowland hopes to continue to develop a positive learning atmosphere for students and to challenge teachers and students to continue to do their best.

"We are creating a positive environment for learning here," he said. "One where students are glad to come to and teachers are glad to be part of."

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