Merchant Marine to Principal

 

Walsh2By Zachary Milewicz

Assistant Principal Christopher Walsh will step up this upcoming year as the Principal of Byram Hills High School. This role is currently filled by Chris Borsari, who is headed to the Tarrytown School District where he will be the Superintendent.

Walsh has been at Byram Hills for the past thirteen years, starting off in 2003 teaching earth science. Since then, he has taught a range of courses including conceptual physics, environmental science, astronomy, and an AIS class (academic intervention). Walsh also started the astronomy club in collaboration with Mr. Keith, the director of the Authentic Science Research Program. In addition, the new principal coached JV boys basketball for seven years, JV girls softball for four years, and was the assistant athletic director for one year, before becoming the assistant principal in 2010. However, Walsh’s career did not begin with teaching.

Walsh attended Carmel High School. Although he did not know what he wanted to become, Walsh did recognize his interests and considered himself to be “a math and science guy.” He felt very comfortable with numbers, was interested in continuing to play basketball, and was even thinking about certain aspects of the military. Ignoring his guidance counselor’s advice to pursue cabinetry, which he walked out laughing about, Walsh was able to pursue his interests thanks to The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. While in high school, he was recruited by the academy to play basketball.  Walsh thought it sounded really cool, out of the ordinary, and something a lot of his other friends were not doing. He went into the academy where they shaved his head, gave him uniforms, and indoctrinated him into a whole other world he was not used to.

Walsh referred to the Merchant Marine Academy as the “forgotten federal academy.” Out of the five U.S. service academies, including The U.S. Military Academy (West Point), The U.S. Naval Academy, The U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and The U.S. Air Force Academy, The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, located in Kings Point, New York, is the smallest. “It’s basically designed to train officers to be able to drive the big ships that are needed to get all the materials in and out of any battle, armed conflict, or if the United States needs to move any armies to other places,” Walsh described. Secondary to that is the American merchant fleets, which transport goods from overseas. Merchant officers are on the ships and they bring them back and forth around the world all the time though all different countries, all different waters, and that is what Walsh wound up doing for a number of years. When he graduated the academy, he had a commission as an officer in the naval reserves, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Marine Transportation, and a U.S. Coast Guard license for unlimited tonnage vessels, which is “basically a driver’s license for any size ship in the world.” When he got out, he started sailing on merchant ships, a number of different types, including from surveillance ships, container ships, ROROs (huge car carrying ships), and break bulk ships. Walsh went all around the world on these different types of ships and “loved being out there.” He would sign on for a ship, be on it for about four months, and then have about two months off before getting on another. He recalls, “The longest being about a year without getting off of it. It got lonely. That one actually started from New Orleans, sailed around the east coast of the U.S., went across the Atlantic, throughout Europe, down into the Mediterranean, around Africa, up past Madagascar, and then to a small little island called Diego Garcia, where we were anchored for a couple of months and then from there I flew home.”

September 11th is when things began to change for Walsh. After the attacks, he started reflecting on what was really important to him and began to think about family and education a lot more. While Walsh still loved the content and doing the actual work when still out at sea, it was important for him at that time to have a “more purposeful life.” That is why he started to pursue different things in education. At the time, Harvard University was giving grants for people who were in mid-career, so he got a grant from them for a mid-career math and science profession. When up there, he taught in two summer schools and then did a practicum in at a middle school in Dorchester, Boston. In 2003, he got a Masters Degree in teaching and curriculum from Harvard and towards the end of the summer was all set to start a job at a high school in Boston when he received a call from Mr. Borsari, who had just started as assistant principal, inviting him down to interview for an earth science job that had just opened. He came down, interviewed, and around two days later the phone rang again- they wanted to make him an offer. That was labor day weekend; he came back that following Tuesday and started. He had to move himself from Boston, “rent a U-Haul, move out of my apartment, get all the stuff back down. It was a crazy time.”

After teaching and coaching for several years, he became the assistant principal. When asked about his favorite part of the job, Walsh explained, “you never know what to expect on any given day. There’s going to be something new and exciting coming up. I get to see kids at their best and their worst and everywhere inbetween and try to help them along the way.” Perhaps that is why Walsh is so well suited to be Principal- his passion for helping students achieve success. Recently, he has been thinking most about trying to figure out ways to really improve the achievement of students. He wants to work with all different members of the community- whether it be the teachers, parents, administrators, working with the students themselves- to try and really continually elevate and improve Byram Hills as a learning organization. The first thing he is mostly concerned with is coming in with a really fresh lens. He stated, “Even though I’ve been in this position and been in the school for thirteen years, I’m coming in trying to see things new for the first time. I’ll have a transition and I’ll have an entry plan.” He is going to be interviewing a number of different people throughout the building, taking all that data in, and trying to figure out the best plan; “I want to make sure everyone’s on the same page. That we’re all where we think we are right now before we move forward with anything.” He also has an interest in improving Byram’s global competency and keeping the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) initiatives moving forward.

In terms of the projects Borsari has worked on these past few years, Walsh wants to continue them. He believes they have “proven to be really beneficial for the school and we want to continue to do them because they do support our students and they do really improve the overall wellness of our students here.” He even hopes on expanding it if he has the opportunity.

As Borsari says, Walsh also advises students the following: “don’t go home on the bus at the end of the day.” He explains that “there is so much to do, so much to be involved with. You never want to have regrets later on saying you should have given something a try. That also holds true too for classes, so if you ever have an idea about taking a certain class, this or that, always try it, never look back and say ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda.’ So put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to fail, and try to just keep an openmind. That would be my best advice.”

Borsari will not be leaving unmissed. “The guy, he’s a big teddy bear,” Walsh joked. “He’s probably the most human of all the bosses I’ve ever had. He is really just someone you can go to with anything- whether it be silly or very serious- and he will always be open to just talking it through with you. I learned a lot from him, I’m gonna really miss him a great deal, and I wish him the best, he’s gonna do a great job up there.”

Walsh has four children, consisting of twin boys who will be three in July, a daughter in kindergarten, and an older son in second grade. His wife likes to sign him up to coach, and as a result, he did so this year for his older two’s soccer teams, their separate teams in basketball, and now his daughter in tee-ball and son in baseball. As principal, he will not have the time and will miss doing so. Apart from coaching and being active with them, he is in the midst of trying to run a marathon in every state. Currently, he is knocking off the east coast, just recently completing his fourteenth and fifteenth marathons in New Jersey and Maine. With thirty five more to go, he is trying to do about four a year.

While his position as vice principal has not yet been filed, the application portal is open and there are over 170 applicants, so far. He explains, “we’re going through it, we’re trying to make sure we come up with the best fit for our kids, give them the best support, so it’s very exciting to see everyone applying and trying to picture them here working with our kids, with our families, and with our teachers. It’s an exciting time!… there’s a lot of change here and I’m getting used to it, so it’s an exciting time here at Byram Hills.” Walsh has enjoyed seeing how professional all of the teachers have been. He boasts, “they are so dedicated to teaching, to students, and to their love of content. Really, I don’t think you get that anywhere else in the area at that level. The support that we get from parents and the community combined with the work that the teachers do and the motivation of the students is what makes Byram Hills so great. I really wanna continue to do that, and it’s really what inspires me to continue moving forward and leading the school.” “It’s a very exciting time, I’m in the right place, and I got the right people.”

Well he is at a place very different from where he started, some things have not changed. Back in high school, he was voted in the yearbook as the most cheerful and most talkative. This still remains and hopefully his enthusiasm for Byram Hills continues to flourish as we welcome him as the new principal