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Chapin grows into principal's role

<i>Phil Pfuehler photo</i> Mark Chapin has a big year ahead as the school's acting principal. He graduated from the same building in 1990 when it was the high school.

Sitting at the same desk as Grant Hanson, his old high school principal, Mark Chapin feels both honored and surreal. Last year at this time, he sat at the desk of his old assistant high school principal, Tom Carroll.

Chapin's administrative ascent has been swift. Earlier this summer the 38-year-old River Falls native was named Meyer Middle School acting principal.

A search for a permanent principal will start in late winter.

Chapin, who has teaching credentials, was an assistant principal for one year at the middle school and, before that, for one year Ellsworth High School.

Chapin said his drive to succeed as principal has much to do with his affection for his hometown of River Falls, as well as the many close relationships he has with friends, old classmates and their children.

And -- not the least -- Chapin says he's inspired to do good work as an example to his three young sons, the eldest of which will be a 4th grader at Rocky Branch Elementary.

While there's a strangeness to working in school you attended as a student, Chapin said the associations are all positive.

"I think it's actually easier because I haven't burned my bridges over the years. I have always tried to act with integrity and build solid relationships with people," he said.

Chapin said being in middle school today isn't really different from when he was a local junior high student in the mid-1980s.

"It's an awkward stage, between childhood and reaching adulthood," he said. "Kids here are trying to find themselves. They want their independence, but they still have that child in them. That can lead to conflicts, acting out, and we need to give them emotional support."

Two noticeable changes to the middle school this year are the "modified block schedule" and the emphasis on "character education."

Modified block means that the middle school will have a similar scheduling format as the high school. The block concept was introduced two years ago at MMS, but now will be used across the board.

"Instead of core classes like for math and science being 42 minutes, they will now be 84 minutes long and held every other day," Chapin said. "In effect, this creates longer, more in-depth classes that should allow for more collaboration and reflection.

The principal also heads a district steering committee, the members of which have trained and are now drawing up a character education program for all schools to eventually follow.

Other steering committee members are: Chuck Eaton, Laurie Moyer, Randy Schwark, Kit Luedtke, Zac Campbell, Denise Horseman, Rita Thorson, Dudley Zhe, Gary Campbell, Missy Murphy and Bonnie Scheel.

"The concept is still unfolding," Chapin said. "We're also not starting from scratch by any means, and I don't want to minimize efforts in this area that have gone before."

Character education is an offshoot of the school district's 2010-15 Strategic Plan. Chapin said it's of personal importance.

"I've always been passionate about teaching character leadership," he said. "I've benefited from good role models, including my parents and the person I mentored with when I taught in Ellsworth. It brought out the best in me."

Read more on this story in the Aug. 26 print edition of the River Falls Journal.