By Carlina Duan
As second semester unfurls a fresh start for students across the district, a another new start has taken place at Pioneer High School: Principal Michael White has returned, back from his yearlong deployment in Fort Benning, Georgia.
White, principal of Pioneer since 2007, was unexpectedly called to Fort Benning, Ga. in January 2010 to serve as a drill sergeant for the U.S. Army Reserves. He spent the past year in Fort Benning training U.S. infantry soldiers and preparing them for deployment overseas. After a year away from home, White has returned to Ann Arbor to resume his job as principal of Pioneer High School.
White described his time in Fort Benning as “intense.”
“My responsibility was to train combat soldiers to go overseas and fight and survive and come back,” he explained. “That training is a little bit different than (working in a) high school. You have to take them and turn them into a group from individuals in 14 weeks. When you’re training these folks, you’re training them for a specific set of strategies and a lot of emotions are tested because they’re at extreme risks.
“I have to come back (to Pioneer) and take it way down,” he added.
White has high expectations for the remainder of the school year and is already planning several large-scale projects. “A couple goals are to continue with the renovations,” he says, referring to the future upgrading of electronic equipment and shelving at the school. “We’re getting a new sound board and sound system. We’re also building a new building at Holloway Stadium for locker rooms – one for the visiting team.”
Furthermore, White plans to establish a new practice turf field to the left of the football field, where there is now grass.
Academically, White is discussing professional development changes for staff. “We’re having the teachers do some workshops to learn how to teach in different ways to different kids,” he said.
White said he is working hard to reacclimate himself for the rest of the semester. “I want to get to know and get back in touch with the student body in the same way I did before I left,” he said. “It’s important to me to know all the students in my school.”
He said he knows about 65 percent of the student body personally and notes that the transition of students moving to Skyline High School is making it easier. “Now that we have less and less students, I think I will know everyone, and that’s great,” he added.
White said he enjoys attending the Pioneer musical performances and sport practices to “get to know some faces and know what they do” as an additional way to touch base with students.
‘I’m just glad to be back. … It wasn’t a vacation experience for me (but) I don’t regret it at all.’
– Michael White, Pioneer High School principal
The transition from Fort Benning back to Pioneer High School has not been easy, but White expresses gratitude for returning home.
“I’m just glad to be back,” he said. “It was a good experience, but you work 18 to 21 hours a day, Monday through Sunday. Drill sergeant is the highest-stress job in the service. It wasn’t a vacation experience for me (but) I don’t regret it at all.”
Students expressed appreciation for White’s continued commitment to Pioneer. “Obviously (Mr. White) came back very strong from his absence by holding very strict tardy sweeps,” said senior Claire Schorin. She said “(even though) I don’t agree with some of his methods, I respect what he’s done for the school and how he has turned Pioneer around and raised the standards of excellence.”
In the meantime, White continues to enjoy his time back in the hallways of Pioneer. “I really appreciate 100 percent coming back to this student body. The majority of our student body are doing great things, and they know if they make a bad choice there will be consequences,” he said. “(There have been) really positive changes in the facility. I think that’s great.”
Tamber Woodworth served as interim principal at Pioneer during White’s absence. Woodworth continues in an interim assignment for the district as principal at Ann Arbor Open @ Mack for the remainder of the 2010-11 school year. She said she plans to retire from the district on June 30.
Carlina Duan is a senior at Pioneer High School and is the editor of The Optimist, Pioneer’s student newspaper. She contributes regularly to the AAPSNews. This article was originally printed in The Optimist.