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Who is Principal John McCabe?
September 13, 2022
Principal John McCabe’s road to success in education
Principal John McCabe was on a week-long trip with hoards of eighth-grade students when he began his career in Parkway. Then, while driving in the burning heat of May 2019, his wife called to let him know that the principal position for Fern Ridge, an alternative learning experience for Parkway high schoolers, had opened.
McCabe, an assistant principal in the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District, spent the next week preparing his application and became principal of the Fern Ridge High school choice program after over 12 years of working in education.
“[At] the Alternative Building at Maplewood Richmond Heights, I was working with unique supports for students struggling in regular high school. Working through difficult times with students has taught me so much about things our students are dealing with now: breakups, low grades and stress at home or school. I’m able to relate with and understand them more because you never really know individuals until they let you in and trust you,” McCabe said.
Then, when former principal Jeremy Mitchell announced his retirement in July 2021, McCabe decided to apply for the position. This only began his six-step journey toward earning the job.
“When you work in schools, anytime you’re going to leave one place to go to another, you are super excited about the potential for new opportunities — new relationships, friendships and problems that you’ll face. [When] the West job opened, it was a dream [of] where I saw myself for the next 10 years. I always admired Parkway [as] the bar for excellence in my mind,” McCabe said. “But anytime you move, you have to leave somewhere else. Change is not an easy thing. You set a high bar for yourself — are you going to achieve that and be the best for all those new people you’re going to serve?”
After the principal position posting remained open for two weeks, the district began hosting focus groups, student surveys and panel interviews for qualified applicants. Based on feedback from students, parents and teachers, McCabe was selected and recommended to the Board of Education. The School Board ultimately bases their approval on what they think parents, students and teachers would want.
“When we’re making decisions, no matter what topic it’s about, we think about the perspective of all of our stakeholders. We think about what the public would be concerned about. We look for someone engaging, outgoing [and] that isn’t afraid to lay down on the floor and play with a kindergartener,” Board of Education Director Jeff Todd said.
For his part, McCabe believes that reaching out and helping others is essential to his role not only as West’s next principal but as a father.
“I have a three-year-old and a three-month-old. I hope Molly, who’s my older, is kind. If I’m walking down the hall and see somebody dropping something, I’ll help pick it up. Little things go so far to help other people have a good day. Kindness as such an essential quality especially right now where there’s so many differing opinions and ideas in the world that seem to cause conflict,” McCabe said.
McCabe hopes to continue creating connections with students and setting high standards.
“I realized I am now a person that students are going to look to help support them. Watching students reach high levels of success and being able to celebrate them while [also being] someone that students can come to when they feel like there’s nowhere to go is a role that I take seriously. We’re going to work together to figure out how we can get you back to a place where you’re feeling good. You’re not alone in this,” McCabe said.
Building the Future of West
Principal John McCabe has taken over the Longhorn reins at a difficult time for schools nationwide. With critical teacher and staff shortages, pressing concerns over school safety in the wake of deadly shootings and students recovering from the tolls of the pandemic — not to mention the construction — he has many challenges ahead.
As the new administration settles in, they must consider the concerns of students, staff and parents. McCabe hopes to support and celebrate teachers.
“I love that teachers have the ability to bring content to life. The most exciting thing for me is to watch the creativity of these amazing professionals in action. [Teaching] is a challenging profession. If you try something new and it fails, that’s okay. You did some great work,” McCabe said.
After getting his Bachelor’s degree at Fontbonne University, McCabe taught psychology, English, history and more for nine years. In 2012, he earned his Master’s degree in educational leadership at Maryville University. After working as an assistant principal at Maplewood Richmond Heights, McCabe served as principal of Fern Ridge High School for three years. His experience has informed his leadership methods.
“Good leaders empower those people around you to also be leaders. My vision of leadership is to be behind the scenes, making others successful and empowering individuals. I want to work with student leaders to give them the opportunity to lead and I want to empower assistant principals to work with their grade levels in collaboration with me,” McCabe said.
He also hopes to continue upholding school traditions, including our Homecoming Parade. McCabe is a fan of the NFL, Blues and Cardinals, and even attends the Fox Theatre in his free time, so showing school spirit comes naturally to him.
“I want to go to everything. I want to see everything. A goal of mine is to get to games, practices [and] events anytime that I can, [where] you get students to see what they’re passionate about,” McCabe said.
However, McCabe is determined to enforce some changes, even if they are unpopular. One of McCabe’s primary job responsibilities is to prioritize building and district procedures in place. However, he heavily encourages students to communicate with him.
“Those are things that are gonna tighten up that I know might not be popular. For individuals that don’t want to follow a policy and procedure, I’m working on talking with those individuals, hearing them, explaining that it is a policy I have to follow [and] why the policy is the way it is. If they want to experience all the school has to offer, we have to abide by the policies and procedures and then try to find some common ground,” McCabe said. “I would focus heavily on being empathetic, being kind, really putting yourself in another person’s position and respecting each and every individual person’s choices and views on any particular topic.”
For constituents with concerns, his door is always open.
“I want to work with you. If you disagree with me on something, I’m always going to be willing to talk with you about it. That doesn’t mean I’m always going to give you the answer that you want. I’m going to evaluate it and talk it through with you, but at the end of the day I’m going to make decisions that are in the best interest of students, teachers, staff members, community teachers, parents and the building,” McCabe said. “One of the most important things for people is the idea of a work family. I want to bring our staff together and give them opportunities to have fun and experience new things. I like to laugh and joke and create a place people like to be. I like to celebrate people. I want to do those little things to let people know that I’m invested in them and care about them. I want to be somebody that people can count on.”
To reach out to Dr. McCabe, please email him at [email protected] and call or text him at (314) 415-7501.