CLINE: Keeping up with the principal a tall order

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

LAWRENCEVILLE — If there's one thing I took away from my visit to Crews Middle School last week, it's this: Dr. Vince Botta can really flip a switch.In our many trips in and out, the principal never failed to turn off the lights before leaving his office. During my time with him as part of the Principal for a Day program last week, I picked up on that part of his personality -- conscientious and consistent. But when it comes to running his school, the switch is always on for the high-energy Botta, who has been principal at Crews since 2008.

He starts his days early (7 a.m. arrival when it's OK to be there by 8:15), in part to get some free time before the busy school day. From there he seems to always be on the go, whether it's leading the local school council meeting, observing teachers or trying to catch up on one of the five books he's currently reading.

"I know I like what I do," Botta said. "(Crews) is a great place to be. I try to set a pace where I'm active."

The 6-foot-6 Indiana native succeeds, and that energy is needed as he and two assistant principals guide 74 certified teachers and 1,183 students. But Botta enjoys the busy nature of his job, and can't imagine doing anything else. Which makes it surprising that being a principal wasn't always his goal.

Botta did his grad work in mathematics education, and began teaching math in Gwinnett in 1990 at Meadowrcreek. He later moved to Shiloh High, where he was named Teacher of the Year for Gwinnett County Public Schools in 2001, and was very content in the classroom until he was nudged toward administration by his principal.

"I thought I'd be a math teacher the rest of my life," Botta said. "But Jim Kahrs, my principal, challenged me. 'What is a school leader? What is effective school leadership? What is the responsibility to lead?'"

When Kahrs left Shiloh to open Peachtree Ridge High, he took Botta with him. Botta became an assistant principal at Peachtree Ridge and later joined another former Shiloh colleague, Bill Kruskamp, as an AP at Creekland Middle. After working there, Botta was promoted to the role he originally never thought about.

"It's a real issue of being in the right place at the right time," Botta said. "Without people like Kahrs, I would be here (at Crews). Without people like Kruskamp, I wouldn't be here."

After four years as a Principal for a Day, I feel like a veteran of the program. But the visits, set up as part of American Education Week, always offer new perspectives and the chance to meet new people. In addition to visiting classrooms and observing teachers and students (and their reaction to having the principal and another random suit pervade their class), I really enjoyed checking in on the orchestra and the band. The orchestra got me fired up for the holidays with a nice rendition of the title song to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and the band had a neat day as they worked on a tribute piece to honor the 15th anniversary of the school.

Some things aren't a surprise (hey, the gym teacher is wearing shorts) and some are (a donation box for Toys for Tots and a sign-up sheet for Relay for Life show kids are learning to give at a young age) but it's all fun to see. My favorite moment of the visit was in a math class (thank goodness the teacher didn't call on me; mixed fractions are like kryptonite to a journalist) as one student couldn't get over Botta's height.

"Man, you're tall," the boy said. Without saying a word, the principal reached up and touched the ceiling, eliciting a priceless reaction of awe from the child.

I'm sure the other Principals for a Day had similar feelings about their visits. Because no matter their height, being a principal is one tall order.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.