EdD Student Named Principal of Bensalem High School

Frank Flanagan, current GMercyU EdD student, was named Principal of Bensalem High School in summer 2022. Although this is Frank’s first year as a principal, he has worked in the field of education for 15 years.

Going Back to School

Frank began his journey in GMercyU’s EdD program in fall 2020. At the time, he was changing his role from teacher to assistant principal. He wanted to learn more about leadership and the various ways to engage and support students, staff, and families.

When researching doctoral degrees, he knew he wanted something local so he would have easy access to campus. Frank ultimately chose GMercyU’s program for its great reputation in providing a well-rounded experience for students, including working on dissertations throughout the program, as well as the opportunity to network.

Frank’s Dissertation

Frank’s dissertation evolved since he first began the program. His current focus is on school improvement on the federal, state, and local level. Particularly, he is looking at how school improvement is designed and how it engages teachers and other stakeholders to promote long-lasting initiatives. Frank also seeks to demonstrate that teacher feedback is valuable throughout the process.

His Career in Education

This school year will mark Frank’s 15th year in education. As an undergraduate student, Frank began student teaching and was also a football and lacrosse coach. He began his career as a teaching assistant in a middle school with life skills students, providing one-on-one attention with his students.

Next, Frank worked as a high school English teacher for 10 years. While his main role was as teacher, he also served as class advisor and helped to sponsor clubs in his school. During the latter part of those 10 years, Frank focused on curriculum, course structure, and project-based learning. He also served as the high school’s lacrosse and tennis coach.

Prior to his new role as Principal at Bensalem High School, Frank worked as an assistant vice principal for two districts over four years.

From Teacher to Principal

Frank plans to utilize his knowledge from being a teacher in his new role as principal. Frank recognizes the “amount of value, effort, and emotion that teachers put into what they do and how personal it is for them.”

He is highly focused on creating long-lasting initiatives and is there to help make teachers’ jobs easier. Frank’s goal is to engage collaboration and create lasting relationships with his constituents.

“Our job is to put the best possible program in place,” Frank said.

How to Keep Up Morale and Increase Engagement

The past two years have made it difficult for school districts to keep up the morale and increase engagement, but Frank plans to change that.

From a teacher standpoint, Frank wants to focus on work culture and communication. Being well organized and having a plan will help keep the teachers at ease and help boost morale. Frank also expressed that it’s highly important to show appreciation throughout the year, and to also be flexible and human.

It’s been increasingly difficult to boost engagement amongst students, he says. For Frank, his focus will be on providing students the opportunity to get excited about various activities and working on school spirit. He gave the example of Homecoming Week at Bensalem; he plans to encourage students to attend the dance and pep rally.

Another way to increase engagement is by having conversations with students and finding ways to relate to them. With an influx in the conversations surround mental health, Frank finds it important to provide support and a safe space for students facing these challenges.

The Value of Higher Education

Questions have been circulating about the value of higher education, with students considering whether or not they want to attend college.

“For teachers to demonstrate the value, they have to feel valued,” Frank said.

As principal, Frank’s duty is to demonstrate how valuable his teachers are despite what the outside world is saying. In his leadership roles, Frank has always tried to be teacher-centric.

For students to understand the value of high education, Frank expressed that it’s important to create a positive environment that allows for various opportunities and a soft landing when they are not successful. Even if a student doesn’t receive an A, be sure to celebrate their effort. Listening, having conversations, and expressing gratitude with students will go a long way to demonstrate the value of higher education.

Learning Gap

Going back to in-person instruction has been a daunting task for both students and teachers. Although the full effects have not been seen, the learning gap from the past two years is evident.

Teachers and administrators have had to help students get reacclimated to the school system.
To help combat the learning gap and the struggle of getting back into the classroom, Frank expresses the importance of working on classroom relationships and creating a supportive environment.

Schools must look at the data to find content gaps, and to re-teach students on certain material if necessary. For Frank, it’s not about getting through the necessary curriculum within the school year, but rather working towards closing the learning gap.

Interventions and programs should be created to support students when they are faced with pressure and confusion on expectations.

Why Stay in Education?

“I’ve always had the philosophy that I teach kids, I don’t teach content. What keeps me going is that they’re kids and we need to give them a future. We need to prepare them to be successful in a way that’s going to be right for them,” Frank said.

For Frank, it’s all about giving students the opportunity to succeed. It’s not about whether or not they can remember a list of vocabulary words, but rather what the students get out of the class. At the end of the day, Frank wants his students to become better people.

“I want to continue to be on the cutting edge of what we can try to do to support students and push them into being successful adults,” Frank said.