Principal Tom McMorran's eyes light up when he walks through the halls of Joel Barlow High School , greeting the students and looking proudly at the new murals they painted on the walls.
Since leaving an assistant principal post at Ridgefield High School and moving to Barlow in 2007, he said improving the spirit at the school shared by Easton and Redding is his proudest accomplishment.
An English teacher at Barlow from 1989 to 1992, McMorran was let go when the student population decreased. "Barlow has a special positive spirit, a special rapport between teachers and students and within the staff and the community," said McMorran, who is working on a doctorate at Seton Hall University. "I always hoped that I'd come back to Barlow."
Under McMorran, attendance has increased at athletic games and social events while interest in school clubs has skyrocketed. "X-period," which was reserved for club activities at the end of the day, many students previously skipped. But by moving the period to the middle of the day, attendance now is 100 percent, he said.
"There's a real danger in contemporary education to turn everything into a test number," said McMorran, who grew up in Ridgefield but now lives in Newtown. "The heart of what we do should be helping teenagers decide who they're going to be as adults. You need those social club settings."
He has pushed for the 986 students to interact more with the staff on such issues as drugs and alcohol. The previously freshmen-only mentoring program now goes all four years with a group of students meeting with the same teacher monthly.
"There are at-risk behaviors that you need to talk through with safe adults," he said. "And if you're going to do drugs, you're going to drink, you're not going to do it on my campus because we're going to try to provide you with lots of positives. And if you're doing a negative and we know about it, you're gone."
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