Chandler High’s new principal ready for challenges The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler High’s new principal ready for challenges

Chandler High’s new principal ready for challenges
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By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Michael Franklin, Chandler High School’s incoming principal, is starting his new job at a chaotic time.

Classes have been delayed by the pandemic, more teachers are preparing to teach online and students are facing the prospect of having to return to school wearing masks.

On top of all that is the certainty that there’s almost nothing certain about what may happen over the next few weeks.

Whatever the school district tries to plan out could be changed in an afternoon.

Chandler High was scheduled to start its fall semester on Aug. 5, before Gov. Doug Ducey suddenly decided this week he wouldn’t let campuses reopen until at least Aug. 17.

The day-to-day changes leave administrators like Franklin struggling to keep pace, but he said he has yet to feel overburdened by the pandemic’s turbulence.

“I haven’t felt overwhelmed by it,” he said. “People are so supportive and helpful.”

Franklin, who was recently picked to replace Larry Rother as principal of Chandler’s oldest high school, said he’s trying to remain optimistic about the current health crisis and believes it could wind up changing public education for the better.

The whole world has changed drastically over the last few months, he said, and schools are quickly having to adjust to operating in a more virtual environment.

“It’s politely pushed us into the 21st century,” Franklin said. “We’re exploring more online options for students. We’re having to utilize more technology in the classroom.”

Chandler High canceled in-person classes in March, closing down the school for the entire fourth quarter. That means it could be nearly five months by the time students return to campus again in August, Franklin noted.

These kids have had their whole routine disrupted, he added, and they may be facing challenges they’ve never experienced before.   

The new principal has spent this last month surveying Chandler High’s students to find out specifically what concerns and questions they have about the future.

Franklin worries most about the students who depend on Chandler High as a safe haven from a troubled home life – or to even have a few regular meals.

“For so many kids, they rely on school for more than just the academic purposes,” Franklin said. “Sometimes it’s a way to get away from the realities of life.”

Despite all the uncertainty plaguing the upcoming school year, it’s hard for Franklin to not feel excited about starting his new job.

He’s a product of the Chandler Unified School District, having graduated from Hamilton High in 2002 and wants to emulate the same educators who put him on a positive career path.

After earning a degree from the University of Arizona, Franklin spent 12 years working at schools around Tucson before accepting an administrative position at his alma mater a couple years ago.

He and his wife have two children who also attend Chandler Unified schools.

While serving as Hamilton High’s assistant principal, Franklin was put in charge of overseeing the district’s equity and diversity initiatives – a program Chandler Unified started a couple years ago to address achievement and discipline gaps among racial minorities and different socio-economic groups.

The issue of equity has come up again this summer as Black Lives Matter activists have staged civil protests across the Valley in reaction to recent incidents of police brutality committed against African-Americans.

Several of Chandler’s local protests have been staged not far from the Chandler High campus.

Franklin said he fully supports approaching education from an equity mindset because every student – regardless of race or class – will encounter a feeling of inequity at some point during their high school experience.

“I am all for continuing our district’s initiatives in equity and inclusion,” he said. 

As a school that dates back to 1914, Chandler High is considered one of the city’s oldest and most famous institutions. It has weathered through wars, economic depressions, racial segregation, and the flu pandemic of 1918. Parts of the school’s original campus were even designated a historic landmark in 2007.

Chandler High is already a great school, Franklin said, and has been so for a long time. That’s why the new principal is not exactly eager to come in and shake things up. Franklin wants to spend his first year on the job listening and observing, rather than instituting any rash changes.   

“I’m not one to make a bunch of changes in isolation,” he added. “Change is not something I’m necessarily looking for or looking to make.”

Franklin said he’s essentially looking to continue a service that’s helped shape him into the person he is today. Chandler Unified never left him feeling misguided or out-of-place as a teenager, Franklin said, and he hopes all the students attending Chandler High this year will feel the same way.

“I’m proud to be back home,” Franklin added. “I never thought I would have an opportunity to come back to the Valley and come back to the school district that’s given me so much.”

In a video to the Chandler High community, he said he will be guided by this mantra in all school decisions: “Go forth with pride, go forth with passion and go forth with heart.”

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