Bellows Falls Middle School principal Henry Bailly.
Robert F. Smith/The Commons
Bellows Falls Middle School principal Henry Bailly.

For new BFMS principal, a focus on ‘climate and culture’

Interim Principal Henry Bailly, recently hired for the permanent role starting in the fall, hopes to bring stability to a school administration that’s faced significant churn

BELLOWS FALLS — Henry Bailly came to the Bellows Falls Middle School at the beginning of the current school year as assistant principal. He will end it as interim principal, a role he had served in since this past fall, and will start the 2023-24 school year as the school's new permanent principal.

“It's going to be an adjustment,” Bailly said. “But I like to feel that I was chosen principal because of the work I was able to do this year.”

Just seven weeks into the school year, Bailly became the sole interim principal with just one administrative assistant.

Though “we were shorthanded for sure,” he said, he believes that the year went well and that he has proved his ability to handle the principal position.

After growing up in western Massachusetts, where his mother ran a day care and his father was a bank president, Bailly went to Keene State College, graduating in 2007 with degrees in both elementary education and biological sciences.

He worked his way through college as a line cook and front-of-house staff at a Keene restaurant. There he met his future wife, Brittany, who was from the Bellows Falls area.

Bailly says that he loves Bellows Falls, where they bought a house seven years ago. The couple has been married 13 years and have a 9-year-old daughter.

Bailly went directly from college to teaching fourth grade at the Westmoreland (N.H.) Elementary School. He worked there for 15 years as a classroom teacher.

He worked with many of the same students from the early grades through middle school, as he also served as both a basketball and baseball coach at the middle school level.

“Sports was my passion growing up,” Bailly said. “As both a teacher and coach, it was great to work with kids in the classroom and on the sports field. It is very cool to see kids that might have struggled in class shine at something they were great at in sports.”

That experience helped Bailly discover that he had a special love for working with middle school students.

During his years at Westmoreland, he got his master's degree in educational administration, certification as a school principal, and his administrator's license, with the idea of eventually jumping from teaching into school leadership. He applied for and got the assistant principal position at BFMS in 2022.

He also has taught anatomy and physiology for seven years at the River Valley Technical Center in Springfield, particularly to nursing students. His position as an administrator has made it necessary for him to give up that teaching position, and he will also not be coaching sports.

“Right now there is just too much to do,” he said.

The current school year ends on June 22, and the 2023-24 school year begins on Aug. 30. Bailly steps in as the official BFMS principal on July 1.

He also hopes to start the coming school year with a new assistant principal. A search committee has formed with input from students and community members. Candidate interviews start within the next few weeks.

Climate and culture

When asked what his immediate focus will be as principal, Bailly instantly responds with “improving the school's climate and culture. I want to turn that around a little bit here.”

He noted that “a lot of traumatized kids come here to school, and Covid didn't help that trauma.”

BFMS has 240 students, numbers that have somewhat stabilized after falling for some time.

“For some kids, coming here to school is the best part of their day,” Bailly said. “Creating a good climate and culture can make a huge difference for them. That's what I want to do here.”

“Students feed off the school climate, positive or negative,” Bailly said.

Bailly explained that the school has had three administrative teams in as many years, on top of a number of administrative changes in previous years.

He said creating stability and a positive school culture in the administration is a priority, noting that he already has two “great, experienced administrative assistants.”

“They have lots of experience in the district,” he said. “I lean on both of them quite a bit.”

Suddenly finding himself in the role of a principal last fall while also short on staff made Bailly rely regularly on input from Windham Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Andrew Haas over the past several months. Bailly said he feels that having that good connection with the school district administrators will be an advantage for him.

“The superintendent was great,” Bailly said. “I feel we've built a strong relationship. Going to him over the past several months for advice or with questions really helped me. He was always there and available to me.”

Bailly said he is already planning ahead with his team, working out how they will proceed with the new school year and what changes might need to be made.

He said they are looking at using what is referred to as the “house system” to organize the students into smaller groups. Such structure gives students a sense of belonging, offers them a place for their voices will be heard, and helps foster a strong sense of community and cooperation, he said.

Teaching to standards

When asked how he feels about schools around the country coming under pressure from some state legislatures and some parents upset at real or contrived school and curriculum controversies, Bailly says he's not particularly concerned about that.

“There hasn't been a lot of push from administrators or parents to change the curriculum here,” he said. “We're given educational standards by the state as to what children should be taught in each grade. We have a lot of flexibility as to how the individual teacher teaches to those standards in a variety of ways.”

While acknowledging that many schools are facing a lot of pressure from any number of outside forces to make changes to fit their particular agendas, he says he hopes to avoid that here.

“School isn't a place for your personal biases,” Bailly said. “I hope we can maintain that here. You may have things you feel strongly about outside of school, and that's fine. But I am not in favor of personal social agendas being pushed on a school.”

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