Broadalbin-Perth Junior High principal retiring; Talks career – ‘Kids need to know that you truly care’

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Broadalbin-Perth Junior High School principal Wayne Bell on Thursday

BROADALBIN – Wayne Bell was a math major who went on to become a math teacher and principal. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

In actuality, Bell’s path has been a series of re-racks. The Broadalbin-Perth Central School District Junior High principal, who remains an active weight lifter at the age of 59, announced in late March that he will retire at the end of the school year after 16 years with the district. The move starts a new set in a career that has built on itself like plates added to the barbell – even when personal tragedy brought on the heavy weight of grief and significantly re-charted his path.

After graduating from the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District in 1980, Bell earned an associate’s degree in construction from SUNY Delhi. The problem was that he hated working construction.

So Bell went to SUNY Brockport to study math. He figured he’d pursue a career in engineering, perhaps even computer engineering.

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But computers puzzled Bell.

“I just could not grab the logistics and programming. It just didn’t make sense to me,” Bell said. “I had never really failed at anything regarding math or logic.”

Still, Bell kept pushing. He stuck with his major but pivoted his goal. He’d always liked working with kids when he was a teenage counselor at summer programs in Fonda. So he made it his mission to be a math teacher.

For a time, things finally seemed to be going according to plan. Bell absolutely loved his student teaching experience, and he had just graduated with a teaching degree when he learned that his father had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Almost immediately, Bell came home and took over his father’s business, the Mars Bar, in Johnstown.

“It was completely out of my realm,” Bell said.

His father’s cognitive abilities were declining, so Bell had to figure out the ins and outs of running a bar–from inventory to legal liabilities–all on his own.

Not to mention, Bell and his family had to cope with his father’s decline.

“It’s tough to talk about, but it was a year of watching someone deteriorate, so it was very difficult,” Bell said. His father died the September after Bell graduated from Brockport. “You have to push forward no matter what the challenges are. There’s no giving up.”

Bell put his energy into the bar for 13 years. He said he’s most proud of expanding the space, building an outside deck and installing a volleyball court.

“I completely changed the original culture of the building,” Bell said. “That was a proud moment.”

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Still, running a bar didn’t fulfill Bell. His regular customers were moving away and the clientele was changing. Patrons’ arm wrestling matches would result in fistfights would result in blood spilled. Heck, Bell felt more of a sense of purpose in his side gig as a personal trainer.

“I always felt like I was missing something. So while I was running the bar, yeah, the money was there, but I just didn’t have self gratification from it,” he said.

So in his mid-30s–more than a decade later than he planned–Bell sold the bar and returned to teaching. (The bar, which was partially damaged in an April 2008 fire, remains shuttered.)

“I interviewed at a lot of places,” Bell said. “I was told many times that I wouldn’t get a job because I was older, I had been out of the business.”

But he was hired as a high school math teacher in Herkimer. The next year, Fonda-Fultonville, Bell’s alma mater, hired him as a math teacher. He spent several years in that district before taking a job as an assistant principal at Broadalbin-Perth in the spring of 2006.

Just like he’d changed the culture of the bar, he wanted to shape the culture inside schools as an administrator.

“I’ve always been a boss, and I’ve always made the decisions. I love working with children, but there were things I thought I could do to carry out my vision for a building,” Bell said.

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He took the job as principal of the junior high school two years after coming to the district. The job has been a huge part of his life for the past decade and a half. Bell said he’s had many proud moments as principal, but none stand out more than his work with one student who was selectively mute.

At school, the student was almost entirely silent. But then Bell discovered that the student would talk on YouTube videos, so Bell was optimistic that he could break through and form a connection. Bell chipped away, initiating conversations. Gradually, the student began to open up. By the end of seventh grade the student was comfortable enough to put on public presentations, talking and showing off his exceptional Rubik’s Cube skills at town and school board meetings.

“Kids need to know that you truly care and that it’s an honest caring,” Bell said. “It’s putting the time in and the effort. Getting the student who wouldn’t talk to present, it’s priceless.”

Bell has definitely made an impact on the Broadalbin-Perth community. The school district’s Facebook post announcing the principal’s retirement had more than 130 laudatory comments at the time of writing.

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“He just was a great guy. Very positive and helpful,” Deryk Joseph Sandmeier, class of 2010, told The Leader-Herald after posting on the school district’s page. Sandmeier now works as an attractions host at Walt Disney World in Florida. “He listened to anything and was just an all around amazing person. He made a big difference in that school.”

But after 16 years at Broadalbin-Perth and more than 20 years in education, Bell said he is ready to call it quits. He plans to work for the district part time as a school safety coordinator, but his daughter is graduating from Brockport this year, and he wants to be able to go wherever her business and marketing degree takes her.

Broadalbin-Perth has posted an assistant principal position that will serve as Bell’s replacement, according to a school district spokesperson.

In the end, Bell said his head is no longer in the job, so he’s ready for something new.

“In education you have to be an ongoing learner, an ongoing student. And if you’re not, you’re doing this an injustice,” Bell said. “I love what I’ve been doing, but I don’t want to be a student anymore. And if I don’t want to be a student of education, it’s not fair to B-P, it’s not fair to the students, it’s not fair to my staff. So now it’s time for a new chapter in my life.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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By Andrew Waite

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