Q&A with: Chad Ellis, principal of Montville High School

Montville, Conn. — Age 34. Education: bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Connecticut, master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Neag School of Education at UConn. Experience: teacher, South Windsor High School, 2002-05; teacher, Enfield’s Enrico Fermi High School, 2005-08; assistant principal, Enrico Fermi High School, August 2008-December 2010.

Woodstock native Chad Ellis arrived at Montville High School on Jan. 5 as its new principal and with a personal mandate: Maintain what’s working, and strive to make it better. Ellis replaced Thomas Amanti, a 36-year veteran of the district, who retired Jan. 1.

Q What are your initial impressions of the school district and the building?

A Everything is positive. The facility is gorgeous. It’s immaculate. Everything is clean. If I were a parent walking into this building, I would have a very positive feeling about it, just by the way it looks.

Q What are your thoughts on how the high school is going to fare through the budget process?

A Everybody is going to have to tighten their belts, and it’s a reality. I’m coming from a school district where budget cuts were the norm, not the exception, so I have some experience with making things work with what you’re given. Hopefully, we’re not going to go backward. Hopefully we won’t lose any staff, but we’re constantly bombarded with things by the national and state government and there’s never any money attached with it.

Q Why do you think these unfunded mandates always fall on the shoulders of public education?

A Almost everybody has gone through a public school, and education is one of those fields where, because people have experienced it themselves as students, they feel they’re qualified to comment on what schools should be doing. There’s no question that schools are the single most expensive part of any budget. Because of that, they’re also the most visible and probably the easiest to target.

Q As principal, how important is the philosophy of transparency?

A Transparency is paramount to building trust. If people don’t know what’s going on, they’re going to reach their own conclusions. Without being in a position to say, ‘This is us, this is what we’re doing,’ people will fill that in themselves. I work for the people of this town, the kids of this town and the teachers in this building. I want them to know what’s going on, because, if they have questions, I want them to ask informed questions, and I want the parents to know what we’re about. You really can’t be a partner with the community unless you have that transparency and unless you’re honest with them.

Q What was your first day like?

A It was great. Anytime you get a new principal, and I’ve been a teacher who’s gotten new principals and in other positions of leadership where new principals have come on, people get a little bit anxious, because you never know what you’re going to get. It was interesting to see how people looked at me. Everybody was welcoming, but it was pretty much, ‘We’re going to see how this guy does.’ But it wasn’t difficult. It was very easy and comfortable for me, even with that atmosphere.

Q Tom Amanti was a big Yankees fan and this office was adorned with Yankees memorabilia for years. Are you going to carry on that tradition?

A Absolutely not. Tom has been wonderful to me. But on opening day we are going to do an exorcism in this office of all the Yankee spirits. I was thinking of painting this section of the wall green.

Copyright 2011 Norwich Bulletin. Reprinted with permission.