The poem on the door of Paul Wettlaufer’s office, written by the Grade 5 class at John Mahood Public School in Elmira, starts off “The important thing about Mr. Wettlaufer is that he has a loud voice on the announcements.” “A P.A. system will do that to anybody,” Wettlaufer chuckles. “They think it’s loud because it’s coming through the wall.”
Wettlaufer, who has been principal at John Mahood for two and half years, is leaving at the end of next week to fill the principal’s chair at Winston Churchill School in Waterloo.
In person, Wettlaufer is much more soft-spoken than his announcement voice would indicate. He’s also the first to tell you he’s not a strict disciplinarian.
“When I think back to my days as a student … my perception was that principals were very authoritarian and students almost feared going to the principal’s office. I like to think of myself as just another classroom where they can feel comfortable coming.”
Students are invited in to share their work, read, or just talk about good days and bad days. That also makes the discipline easier when something comes up in the classroom or out in the schoolyard.
Wettlaufer started his 25-year career as a teacher at Rosemount Public School in Kitchener. He tries to get back in the classroom whenever he can, helping out any time teachers need an extra set of hands.
Wettlaufer has worked at nine schools during his career and John Mahood stands out for its caring community, he said. The teachers work to make the students feel secure and good about themselves, and the larger community has rallied in support.
“I firmly believe that you need to have someone wanting to be at school and enjoying the school environment and feeling good about themselves and then they will take on what the expectations of the program are,” he said.
When the school first tried full-day kindergarten as a pilot project, one little student had trouble making it through the whole day. During story time, he was sitting upright, sound asleep, so they made a bed for him on a cushion behind the secretary’s desk.
“He soundly slept from probably 1 until 3 o’clock at which point he woke up and asked ‘is it home time?’” Wettlaufer recalls. “It’s not just about imparting facts on kids, it’s also about meeting their basic needs.”
One of Wettlaufer’s goals at Winston Churchill is to make sure the caring is at the forefront of the board’s goals of learning, connecting and caring.
The move is part of a domino effect affecting half a dozen principals that started with a principal taking a position with the Ontario College of Teachers. The new principal at John Mahood will be Tracy Tait, currently vice-principal at Franklin PS in Kitchener.
Wettlaufer had to laugh when he discovered he finished on Friday the 13th. He starts at Winston Churchill on Feb. 17, the day after holiday Monday, so he’ll be spending his long weekend packing.
“Nothing says Family Day like…” he trails off into a chuckle.