Embracing Tradition and Promoting Progress: A Conversation With Dr. Simms

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By Julia Demskie, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Samuelle Simms spent her first year as the principal of New Paltz High School doing the same thing as her students: learning and adjusting.

“Whenever you enter a new space, there’s a lot to learn,” she explained, speaking to a year she described as “enlightening.” Upon reflecting on her first impressions of the NPHS community, she recalled being pleasantly surprised by students and staff alike.

Early on during the 2021-22 school year, the school community welcomed her with open arms. Speaking with pride, Simms recounted how eager teachers were to have her join their classrooms and understand the environment:

“That just speaks to the confidence that our teachers have in their craft,” she said, “and the passion that they have for what they do.”

This passion was something she also found in students, who she soon understood take their education seriously; they have a real passion and hunger for learning. She remarked, with an air of near disbelief, on how quiet students remained during class, and how focused and engaged they appeared. 

“Students here are very connected to their community,” Simms continued. “They’re very outspoken… they’re not afraid to tell you what they feel and what they’re thinking, which is actually a very good trait to have. As young adults, you need to know how to advocate for yourselves.”

This progressive culture is one that Simms believes makes New Paltz High School unique, and a perfect place to enact her plans for the coming years. A more inclusive school environment is a top priority of hers for the future.

“There are a lot of things that we need to do in house. Why not involve students?”

Dr. Simms

“We still have many students that feel like they are not part of the school community, or that they’re not represented,” she said.

To help reach her goal of inclusivity, she hopes to include more students directly in dialogue about the school through opportunities like the Equity Committee. This committee is open for students to join, and will serve as a direct line of communication to give the administrative team more insight into the needs of students.

“There are a lot of things that we need to do in house. Why not involve students?” she said.

Dr. Samuelle Simms sitting at one of the new lunch tables.

Simms is also spearheading school beautification projects, to make New Paltz High School a space that students and staff can feel proud of. Her face lit up with excitement as she revealed that she was awaiting the arrival of new lunch tables: long, maroon, picnic style tables to replace the rows of desks strategically placed 3 feet apart for the 2021-22 school year.

One of the changes most tangible to students is the instatement of longer lunch periods, which now span 40 minutes instead of just 25. This adjustment came as a surprise for many in the building, as the four way split of third block for lunch periods was such a long established routine. This decision was made with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mind. Simms thought it important to give students a longer mental break amongst their 4 academic blocks each day.

Her longer term goals for the school include diversifying staff and offering more courses that can earn students college credits, like AP courses or dual enrollment programs.

“To leave high school with credits you don’t have to pay for is a blessing,” Simms stated.

“When we come together, it’s a living thing. We all evolve, so it’s important for me to have a pulse and to understand where we are heading.”

Dr. Simms

The transition back to a pre-COVID model of school has been full of surprises for Dr. Simms, as it has unearthed some of New Paltz High School’s most beloved traditions that had been put on pause for two and a half years. She hopes to honor and embrace those traditions, while continuing to better the school community.

As for her own role in the building and the district, she envisions herself continuing to learn, listen, and engage in conversations with students and staff to serve all members of the community best.

“When we come together, it’s a living thing. We all evolve, so it’s important for me to have a pulse and to understand where we are heading,” she concludes.