—By Michael Bamford & Liam Knox—
Opinion Editor Liam Knox and Copy Editor Michael Bamford met with new vice principal Peter James to discuss math, soccer, scuba diving, and Royster’s singing voice.
MB: Is there a big difference between being a high school vice principal and a K-5 math supervisor?
PBJ: Yeah. I was K-5 Math and Science supervisor at Hopewell Valley. And when you’re doing that there are literally four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, so even some of your day is spent traveling between buildings. As a vice principal, while there are just as many issues, they’re contained. The first week I noticed that whereas supervisors tend to run from building to building and speak like Tasmanian devils when they get to their location, because while they’re having a conversation with you they’re worried about everything that’s going on in the places where you’re not, the vice principal and principal are actually having a conversation with you but they slow it down, because they’re watching what’s going on behind you. Like, is he really going to throw that packet of ketchup on that girl? So the issues are contained and you can see them and get to them. For example, the pipe bursting last week—I was able to run to it instead of having to drive across town to solve it. So there’s that.
MB: What were your first impressions of the school?
PBJ: One, it’s large. It’s a much bigger high school than where I was coming from. But kids are kids, and you guys are awesome. Part of why I picked WW-P as a place to apply was because of the student community. We are academically focused, we are a community that comes together and helps each other out. That was one of the first things that jumped out at me, at least on paper. Then when I walked through those doors, I noticed people are happy here. They go out of their way to help each other, and I think that’s a great thing.
MB: How about of Royster?
PBJ: (laughter) Love him. He’s got a great relationship with kids. He definitely is able to ask questions and discuss things with students that I may not be able to, but in a way that makes people feel comfortable. He’s a huge benefit to the school.
MB: What was your first challenge as vice principal?
PBJ: The first challenge was remembering to bring the remote early in the morning to turn on the attendance TV, because otherwise students queue up and they’re watching a blank screen, which is really kind of funny. But we also had an episode on one of my first days where the nurse was being called to three different locations; we needed to get an ambulance on site, so navigating that with Ms. Levine and actually Mr. Eadie, who was here that day, that was my first challenge working with the administrative team on something that was really serious.
MB: How do you feel about filling the shoes of Mr. Eadie?
PBJ: I can never hope to replace Mr. Eadie. As far as, you know, after meeting with him and learning about what he’s done here I do think he’s irreplaceable. But I will do my best to be a very good, if not great, assistant principal here. I’ll support students, staff, the community in any way I can. My goal is not to replace or even try and replicate what Mr. Eadie did, but to serve as well as I can for everyone.
MB: What’s your philosophy of leadership, and how do you plan to use that as a vice principal?
PBJ: I was a soccer and lacrosse coach; I played soccer from the time I was five. My goals as far as being a leader was always to be the one who would pitch in, get your hands dirty in the trenches and show that not only can you direct, but that you can walk the walk as well. So my goal here, at least in the few days I’ve been here, has been to just kind of keep following up on all the things facility-related, but also to show that I can fill up on the work order, and show that if Mr. Royster or Mr. Moon, if they’re out and being pulled in some way, that I’ll jump out front and watch the parking lot or do whatever needs to be done. So just trying to be involved in anything that comes up, and jump in and take a role in it alongside the leading and planning.
LK: Is there anything you plan on changing about the way the school runs?
PBJ: My goal for the first year is to just learn who we are. There’s an old expression that to throw the baby out with the bath water is just not something we want to do. We do so many wonderful things here, I wouldn’t want to come in and change anything right now without learning what it is we’re doing, why did we do it, and really being thoughtful about any changes we have to make. That doesn’t mean we won’t, but my goal right now is to learn. I’m on as much of a learning curve about West Windsor as the students are about myself.
MB: Vending machine product of choice?
PBJ: The orange crunchy cheetos.
MB: Would you rather own an elephant-sized puppy or a puppy-sized elephant?
PBJ: (without hesitation) A puppy-sized elephant.
MB: Why’s that?
PBJ: Right now I live in a condo, so the puppy-sized elephant would work better. Also, going way back, I’m allergic to almost every animal, plant, dust, tree that’s out there. I always loved dogs and cats, and we have a 23-pound cat that I live with because my wife, I guess, wanted a cat. But I’ve always loved huskies, but just as puppies. They’re just amazing little dogs when they’re young, and so I think having an animal that’s supposed to be big be small is pretty cool.
MB: What’s your least favorite question to answer?
PBJ: “Tell me about yourself.”
MB: In light of that, tell me about yourself?
PBJ: I figured I was setting myself up there. Well played, sir. (laughter) I think you’re starting to hear a bit about who I am. I played sports all my life and took a lot of skills and knowledge from that as far as what it means to be part of a team. I want to encourage others to do that. My mother was a teacher, my father was a teacher, my grandmother was a teacher—a lot of educators in my family. So what I’ve learned from that is that it’s never been about the content that we teach as teachers or administrators. It’s about showing our students who we are as people, setting an example, and then going out and supporting them to be the best people they can be. That’s what defines who I am.
MB: If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would you choose?
PBJ: Does it have to be dinner? Can we go with ice cream at Thomas Sweet’s? Because I would have loved to have caught Einstein for an ice cream at Thomas Sweet’s. You know the picture with him sticking his tongue out? All-time fave. Hm. Let’s see, who else? I’ve actually written people off that list, never really added anyone to it.
MB: Who’s off the list?
PBJ: Eddie Vetter is off the list. I’m a huge Pearl Jam guy, and I think his voice kind of grabs a different part of who I am and talks to it, but when you watch all the video feeds, we’d have nothing in common, which is really funny. I’m trying to think, hmm. John Dewey. I know this is kind of unknown to you guys; he’s kind of an educational cat. He was responsible for a school in Chicago, and his family also had a home in Key West…just a lot of similar interests. I enjoy the warm climate because I’m a scuba diver, and I’m also really big into his educational philosophies. Jurgen Klinssman, because you’re wearing a Manchester jersey. I’ve loved his evolution from player to coach. Watching him play in the 1994 World Cup was awesome, and then seeing the development of U.S. soccer…I think he’s done a lot of really important and difficult things.
MB: What’s your favorite TV show?
PBJ: That tends to change from time to time. Let’s see, right now I’m waiting for the second season to see what it’s like, but True Detective. And just for a good laugh, the Big Bang Theory—you know, I’m a geek at heart. You don’t get a degree in mathematics without being a little bit of a nerd.
MB: Do you have any special talents or hobbies?
PBJ: I’ve been playing soccer forever. I bought a bass guitar because I got 6 credit hours of pure 4.0 GPA from that in college. And as far as the scuba goes, I actually have my dive master certification, so I can help instructors and others discover scuba diving. I like to cook a lot, too. I was working with our “Mug and Muffin” crew. All kinds of Italian food. My mother’s maiden name was Italiano, and so I learned how to make a half-decent meatball and a pot of gravy.
MB: What are your favorite sports teams?
PBJ: Juventus. As far as a soccer team. I’m from Philly so the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers.
MB: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
PBJ: Right now, top on my list is Powai in the South Pacific. It’s a scuba-related desire. I want to see really colorful fish and manta rays so I would love to get out there. But it won’t happen for a while because my son is two, and getting out to the South Pacific just isn’t going to be possible for a while.
MB: Whom do you most admire in life?
PBJ: Probably my mom. Again, it goes back to that goal of teaching others who you are and how to be the best you can be, and she’s had the largest influence on that in my life.
MB: Who are you wearing?
PBJ: Who am I wearing? Um, do I have a tag? Pronto Uno. It’s Men’s Warehouse.
MB: Sounds French.
PBJ: I think it’s Italian. Fragli-ay?
MB: Overrated versus underrated. School lunches.
PBJ: I just saw a sandwich today. Under-rated.
MB: Shake it Off by T-Swift.
PBJ: Does it need explanation?
MB: Casual Fridays.
MB: Royster’s smooth, silky and soulful singing voice.
PBJ: Oh, definitely underrated.