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It’s all about progression: Neighbor Michael Grim



Not everyone in this world is comfortable in the company of young adults but some select few cannot only tolerate the turmoils of teenage existence, but relish the opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives. Michael Grim, the principal at Pulaski County High School, is just such a fellow and to hear him tell it, the rest of the faculty feels the same way.

When addressing the athletic looking 6’4″ PCHS principal, who describes himself as ‘bald and ugly,’ one imagines how the average student must feel in his presence. In a word, that student might feel intimidated, at least at first.

The measured tones in which Grim speaks belies his intimidating physical presence, though. His speech is at once free flowing, yet concise and his overall demeanor seems immanently reasonable, something that has no doubt served him well in his capacity to deal with students and faculty.

Grim’s formative years were spent in Chicagoland, where his father worked in the hyper competitive field of product development for a fast food chain. When his father switched jobs, the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Grim attended Jr. high and high school before heading off to college at Bowling Green. There in Kentucky, he met his future wife, Melissa, who was also taking classes at the school.

“I studied elementary education because I knew from the get go that I was going to end up in education,” said Grim.

Upon graduation, Grim became certified to teach kindergarten through eighth grade.

“I taught seventh and eighth grade science back in Ohio,” said Grim. “It was a blast. Teaching middle school is not everyone’s cup of tea but I quite enjoyed it … thrived in it.”

During this time, his wife Melissa took classes at Ohio State and obtained her doctorate degree. The two were married in 1999.

“When she finished up, it was like OK, I knew it too,” Grim related. “She was going to look for jobs and RU was one of the places that she had her eyes set on.”

Melissa Grim found work at RU and so the couple decided to move to the New River Valley. That was 15 years ago, and according to Mike, “I actually never lived anywhere longer.”

At that point, Grim felt more suited to teaching middle school than very young elementary school students but the state of Virginia did not recognize his teaching certification past elementary school grades.

“I spent a lot of time looking for jobs and couldn’t find any middle school positions because I was not endorsed by Virginia,” Grim explained. I just finished up a master’s degree myself so I wasn’t really interested in taking more classes.”

Michael Grim eventually found a job teaching fifth grade at Claremont Elementary School, the same year that school along with Northwood and Draper elementary schools Claremont consolidated into Pulaski Elementary School.

“So I worked with a strong group of fifth-grade teachers and by January/February 2005, we moved over to PES,” said Grim. It was a growing year for the students as it was for me.

The next year, Grim applied for the newly created position of Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT).

“So I changed roles and I got myself back into the middle schools doing that,” said Grim. “I would go in and assist teachers in integrating technology into their lessons.”

After doing this for five years and hearing the constant refrain of ‘My printer’s broken, can you help me with that?’ Grim decided it was again time for a change. He decided to go back to school and acquire an Educational Leadership degree from RU.

After attaining his degree in 2009, Grim was hired as one of three assistant principals at PCHS. Grim enjoyed his time there but not long after he was hired, the school board eliminated that third assistant principal position.

“So I was looking for a job,” said Grim. “I could go back and do the teaching piece again but I decided to look at what was available.”

What was available was an assistant principal position at Narrows High School, which Grim eagerly accepted.

“I was actually the Athletic Director on top of that,” said Grim. “It was eight through 12 in a school of not even 350 students. It was a good gig, nice people up there as well but it was 30 minutes each way. so it’s like losing an hour with family every day.”

Two years later Grim was hired as the new principal of Critzer Elementary School. After making the adjustment that goes with overseeing a high school to overseeing operations at an elementary school, Grim settled in at Critzer.

“It was a little uncomfortable at first but there’s an amazing faculty at Crizer and so as much as I could help them, they could help me and we worked together,” said Grim.

At the end of his second year as principal at Critzer, the job opening for principal at Pulaski County High School came up and Grim decided to apply.

“There were a lot of very qualified applicants,” said Grim. “So it was an honor to get an interview back at that point because ‘I’m just an elementary school principal, are they really going to take me seriously if I apply to the largest school west of Roanoke?’ And yeah, I got the job, and here we are.”

When Grim arrived as the new PCHS principal, he was intent on making some changes.

“The faculty here when I arrived in 2014 was primed and ready for a bit of a culture change,” Grim explained. “So when I asked certain things of them, they were right on it. We did a lot of things in 2014/2015 to integrate the faculty back together to remind them we’re all in this together … that we have common students and that we can work together a bit more like one faculty … one team.”

Grim admits that he relied on the talents of his staff, notably assistant principal Jennifer Bolling, to bring a stronger sense of cohesiveness to the faculty.

“So the faculty came together,” said Grim. “If they ever need to speak with me, they tell me they need some face time and we’ll figure out a way to do it because there’s easily 130 teachers up here on any given day and you can’t see everybody in one day. I call it Face Time with Faculty.”

What does a high school principal do?

“The principal does a little bit of everything,” Grim explained. “There’s never a dull day. A lot of interaction with students, that’s one of the things that I try to do. I don’t like to spend a lot of time in my office.”

Grim does spend a lot of time with students, and not always under the best of circumstances.

“Turns out, sometimes teenagers have conflicts,” said Grim. “We like to have them slow down and tell us there’s a problem well before it turns into something else outside of the disagreement. So If we’re not open to allow ourselves to listen to these pieces, then everybody can’t learn how to deal with that problem or conflict better the next time. We only get them for four years, so if we don’t model those expectations now then how are you going to know how to do those things when you step out of this environment?”

Now in the fifth year of his tenure, PCHS has seen the emergence of some positive trends. “We have seen a growth in graduation rates to just over 96 percent,” said Grim. “It’s something we’re really proud of.”

Even so, Grim says the four percent who do not graduate is cause for concern.

“We take that very personally as does my whole faculty,” said Grim. “So that if we lose touch with a student or a student loses interest in high school we try to be as flexible as possible and brainstorm about the student’s skills, so they can keep moving forward toward graduation.”

Grim has also made moves to lower chronic absenteeism which has become a top priority in statewide education policy. If a PCHS student has a B or higher average and has missed no more than three days for any reason during the semester, they can opt out of taking the final exam.

“What we find is that typically, if a student is here and is engaged in academics, they already have the knowledge because they understand the content of the course,” said Grim.

All in all, Grim believes Pulaski County High School to be in very good shape.

“We are a Blue Ribbon school now because of the accomplishments of our fine arts department, which includes two different bands and our choir,” recounted Grim. “Our drama department has won state for the last two years. We’ve had very successful athletic teams. Unfortunately, academics and the content in the classrooms isn’t always easily judged but the final score of a football game can be. In a lot of ways our PR outside of the county has been our biggest enemy. When I have teams visit other schools, it’s not unheard of that I get a call from a principal or a parent to say, ‘your kids are phenomenal.’”

Future plans for PCHS include integrating an International Baccalaureate degree, which is recognized worldwide and would increase the prestige of the school.

“We’re not trying to set up anything that would compete with the governor’s school,” said Grim. “It’s more humanities based. We were looking for it to align more to fine arts.”

Grim has two daughters within the Pulaski County school system and tending to them takes much of his free time.

“We’re big swim parents,” said Grim. “We do anything we can do to keep the girls busy. The more things they do, the more well-rounded adults they’ll turn into.”

The PCHS principal also admits to being a “science fiction geek.”

In Grim’s view, students and teachers should ideally have a seamless relationship.

“Our job is, yes, to teach you and we have rules but we’ll do anything we can, we’ll bend over backward to help our students out,” said Grim. “As the students have come to understand that, that’s changed the culture and the climate in the building.”

Grim says he tries to be as cordial as possible with his interactions with students and staff alike.

“This job requires character and you’ve got to tap into that at times and figure out the right things to do. Hopefully, I’ve got enough character to do it,” Grim confided. “Just trying to help people out can be exhausting in itself but it’s rewarding as well. It’s all about progression.”



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