Taft picks Grishaber


Getting students to take greater ownership of their school and improving ACT scores are among the goals that Mark Grishaber has for Taft High School when he becomes the school’s new principal on July 1.

"We can get this turned around," Grishaber said. "It will not be easy. I understand that, but I didn’t take this job because I thought it would be a cakewalk. You can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing, or you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting." The Taft High School Local School Council unanimously approved the selection of Grishaber to replace Mary Kay Cappitelli, who resigned in April due to medical reasons, at its June 12 meeting. Taft acting principal Carolyn Rownd and Foreman High School assistant principal Dr. Staci Stratigakes were the other finalists for the position.

"We feel confident that he will be an asset to Taft by bringing with him his passion for students, teachers and learning," LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said. "Mr. Grishaber himself lives in the community a short distance from Taft High School and is as much interested in helping move our school and students forward as are we." Grishaber is a former teacher at Saint Patrick High School who has been an assistant principal at Young High School since 2006. He becomes the third contract principal at the school since 2012, and some LSC members said that they hope he will bring stability to the position.

"I live seven blocks from here, and this is the perfect job for me," Grishaber said. "Unless I’m offered to be the poet laureate, and that’s only because I love poetry, I’m not leaving." Grishaber said that when he met with Taft students before a June 9 principal candidate forum, one of their top concerns was the school’s dress code, and that he will hold a town hall meeting to discuss possible changes. The dress code requires students to wear dark pants or jeans and a plain white collared shirt, but the school administration periodically has waived the requirements when students are participating in a charitable fund-raiser, and exceptions also are made for clothing items that have the school logo.

Some of the conditions at Taft which led to the dress code no longer exist, Grishaber said. "It’s not a gangbanging school anymore," he said. "Let’s see what the kids can do. They have to take responsibility." During recent discussions at LSC meetings, school administrators have expressed doubt that the faculty would support easing dress code restrictions. Grishaber said that changes could be implemented gradually and be tied to performance goals, such as an increase in the daily attendance rate.

Grishaber said that he will rely on leaders among the students to address issues such as smoking in the bathrooms. "I have to have a meeting with each of the classes, starting with the seniors," he said. Grishaber has been critical of Taft’s average ACT score, which is about 1 1/2 points below the statewide average. "We can’t keep hovering around 18.7," he said. "We have to get above 20."

Grishaber said that he wants Taft to offer ACT preparation courses before and after school and have them taught by Taft teachers instead of an outside test preparation company which has little vested interest in the long-term success of the school. He said that at Young he noticed that students become more interested in ACT classes that are taught by teachers at the school. Grishaber presented a list of goals for his first 30 days as principal to the faculty. They include creating a faculty database and setting up meetings with community leaders. "I want them to be able to connect a face with my name," he said.

Grishaber also said that he plans to spend time discussing the curriculum with the faculty in an effort to "find out what is working and what is not from those who are on the front lines." Grishaber said that other priorities will be to address a policy that keeps some late-arriving students from attending their first-period class and crowded conditions in some hallways during passing period, which he said could be a fire hazard. Last winter students who were more than 15 minutes late to school were not allowed to attend their first class because of concerns expressed by other students that their tardy classmates were disrupting class.

In a statement, Schwieger thanked Rownd for her work while serving as Taft’s acting principal since Cappitelli went on medical leave last fall. "From the bottom of our hearts, the Taft family is grateful to her for all of her hard work and dedication to the job over the past 7 months," the statement said. "She positively affected so many of us here at Taft and will be missed."

Rownd was on loan to Taft until June 30 from Jones Prep High school, where she serves as an assistant principal. Rownnd reportedly left Taft a few days after the LSC made its decision, and one of the school’s assistant principals is temporarily in charge through the end of the month.