SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Although it’s been 10 years since he walked the halls of South Plainfield High School (SPHS), Robert Diehl said he is happy to be back as the building’s interim principal.
“It feels wonderful,” Diehl, who took over as interim principal of SPHS July 1, told TAPinto South Plainfield.
Diehl served as principal of Roosevelt Elementary for the past decade, but began his tenure in the district at the high school back in 2009, serving first as a social studies teacher and coach before going on to be named the SPHS's disciplinarian and assistant principal.
“There weren’t too many things I didn't do back when I was here the first time,” Diehl said. “I may be new to this particular office and this position, but not new to the high school…I know the building, I know most of the staff, and I know the community.”
While many things at the high school may be familiar – including much of the staff and the hundreds of former Roosevelt students that now walk the halls – Diehl said curriculum, course offerings, and, most significantly, technology have changed quite a bit over the past decade.
“Technology seems to be the big one,” he said.
This year, said Diehl, the district implemented a new 1-to-1 program in which all SPHS students are provided a Chromebook free-of-charge to be used throughout their high school career; during the first full week of classes, over 1,000 Chromebooks were distributed to SPHS students in ninth through 12th grade. “This will help us a great deal with getting all types of important information out faster and at anytime and allow the students to work both at home and in the classroom,” said Diehl.
Another major technological change, according to the principal, has to do with cellphones and how they are used during the course of the academic day. “Once upon a time, students didn't have cellphones, then they did, and now we deal with the challenge of understanding that just about every student has a cellphone,” Diehl said, telling TAPinto that he understands students are ‘connected to their phones.’
As a result, he has been working to reinforce the school’s existing cellphone policy, which limits how and when students may use their phones throughout the course of the school day. According to Diehl, students can text but not make phone calls in between classes and must put their phones away during class. At lunch and at the conclusion of the school day, however, they can use their phones to call, text, and/or listen to music.
“We want to compromise with them because we understand their needs to use their devices but, at the same time, we want to make sure that when they walk into a class the phone is away,” he said. “There is a transition of how to work with the students and be fair to their needs and their wants but at the same time do what we need to do as responsible educators.”
As the building’s new principal, Diehl said he is also working to ‘tie up some areas that may have been seen as gray in the past,’ particularly in terms of requiring student IDs to be worn and visible at all times and cutting down on tardiness. Effective this year, students who arrive past 8:10 a.m. and any caught during the school day without their IDs in a visible spot will receive an automatic after school detention.
“We are not doing any of this just to do it or to have another thing to do. It’s a safety issue. We need to be able to identify every person – whether student, staff, guest, or someone working in the building – here,” Diehl said of the need for students to wear their IDs, whether on a lanyard or clipped to their clothing, at all times. That policy, he told TAPinto, goes for him as well. “I promised them that, should they ever see me without my ID, I would be subject to the same consequences.”
In terms of tardiness, Diehl said students who arrive late – with the exception of an extenuating circumstance – will also be subject to detention. “We need our students in the building on time; not because we want to impose another rule but because we know they will benefit from maximum instructional time,” he said.
As principal, Diehl said he is ‘dedicated to educating the whole child in terms of academics, extracurricular, social skills, and the rules society will impose upon them.’ His goals include providing a safe and comfortable environment, creating a culture of respect within the building, and working to ensure that all South Plainfield High School students have a plan when they graduate.
“We talk so much about academics and scores and the things we need to do as measures of success and the rules of society that they are going to face as adults are just as important. If they get a job, they are going to have deal with things like being on time and being respectful,” he said.
“I’ve told all the students that I respect every one of them and it’s a two-way street. They should respect the administration; they should respect their teachers, and they should respect each other. Remembering all that will enable each one of them to have a very good high school experience,” continued Diehl, adding that his overall goal is to make ‘make South Plainfield High School, which is already really good, better every day.’
“We are not satisfied with status quo or remaining in one spot. We want to keep moving forward and improving and making it a little better each day,” said Diehl, adding, “If we do something every day – just a little thing – just think what 180 days later we will be able to achieve.”