By Leo Chiaet
Jim Devlin started his job as principal at James Caldwell high school in September 2015. I decided to interview him to get a better perspective of our new administrator.
He grew up in Livingston, one of seven kids. I asked if he had any pets that also took up space and he laughed a little at the thought.
“I did not have any pets growing up. I was one of 7. My dad was a postal worker, my mom was a stay home mom… so we didn’t have a ton of money. My mom was wise enough to say, I’m not having pets with 7 kids.”
Now he is married and has two sons. As stated on his bio “his favorite activity is anything that includes spending time with his family and their golden doodle, Daisy.”
In high school he recounts being most active in 9th and 10th grade. He discussed the extracurricular activities he was in involved in like football, track, band, chorus, but he says that as he got older he started moving away from those clubs and leaning more towards other clubs that held his interest and that would set him on his career. Things like peer leadership, and the youth group, that were more focused on his life as an educator.It’s no coincidence that he was thinking of a career in education when he was in 9th grade.
For those interested in a career in education, Mr. Devlin recommends participating in such programs.
“That summer I got a job working at a Special Education Summer camp in East Hanover. I worked at that Special Education camp every summer until college. I realized that I liked working with students. I thought I wanted to be a Social Studies teacher or a Special Education teacher.”
Mr. Devlin eventually would become a history teacher for 13 years. He graduated from the University of Delaware, Magna Cum Laude, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History Education in 1992. He almost immediately started working on his Masters of Education – Supervision and Administration degree in Rutgers University, while teaching history in Marlboro High School 1992-2000. Then he worked at Chatham for five years working as a Social Studies teacher and a supervisor.
“You were kind of juggling things?”
He laughed, then he went on to explain, “It was great actually. The problem with going into administration is that you move out of the classroom; you have your strongest relationship with students when you’re teaching. So I was supervisor, so I had an overall better effect on the entire department, I think a positive effect, but I also got to teach.”
After working in Chatham, he accepted an administrative position at Morris Knolls High School in Denville, in 2005, working as an assistant principal and Social Studies Supervisor.
“Some administrators forget what it’s like to be teaching. I feel like my path has been slow and gradual, and I have gained a lot of experience to take it to the next level.”
What prompted the next level was only a matter of time. Next, I asked him how he ended up as a principal here:
“I was the assistant principal at Morris Hills high school for 10 years, and I went to a principal conference last February in San Diego, a national organization of principals. And it was very inspiring, and I decided I wanted to take the next step.
“I looked for good schools that were smaller, and then this position opened up, and I applied and I got it.”
So now that he has been on the job for some time, I asked him how his usual day goes:
“Every day is different. It’s actually an exciting job; it might not sound like an exciting job, but the pace is pretty quick, and you never really know what you’re going to be dealing with.”
Mr. Devlin knew that sitting behind a desk all day does not help him understand and communicate with students and faculty. He usually likes to go out into the hallways a couple of times a day to visit classrooms and greet students.
“There are a lot of meetings. I tend to be pretty busy throughout the day.” If you were to look at his schedule almost every slot of time is filled with meetings and work. It is very common for him to be working later hours in the day when school finishes. “I like to be busy, I could never just sit at my desk.”
Since this is half way through your first year, I asked if there is anything that has surprised him about being principal of JCHS?
“The most surprising thing is that all of the great things I heard about James Caldwell High School are true. One never knows what he is stepping into when he switches schools. I thought this was a great school, but I heard so many awesome things about the faculty and students that I thought it was too good to be true. The students are as friendly and good-natured as was described, and the faculty deeply cares about it students, one another, and James Caldwell High School.”
Since he is half way through his first school year I wondered, what has been the most rewarding part of being principal?
“Seeing our students “soar” in all aspects of school life. To a teacher (which I still proudly consider myself), there is nothing more professionally gratifying than hearing students articulate an original thought or make a connection to the “real world.” I get the same feeling when I see a beautiful piece of artwork a student painted, hear one of our music ensembles perform, attend a successfully run student event (i.e Coffee House), read an article in the Caldron, or watch one of our athletic teams compete.”
I closed with asking Mr. Devlin what his future goals are as principal? What would you like to see happen at JCHS in the next couple of years to improve our school?
“Two things that I hear from students are: (1) Our school offers a wide array of courses, but with all of the requirements, it is difficult for students to explore their areas of interest. I don’t see the State reducing course requirements any time soon, but I would like to find a way for students to take more of the courses they want. (2) They like learning and creating with technology, so I would like to get students and teachers access to digital technology on a more consistent, if not daily, basis.”
I thanked Mr. Devlin for his time and his candor. Overall, it sounded like Mr. Devlin is really trying to understand the people and dynamics that make up JCHS, and he really tries earnestly to make a positive impact on it.