MHS staff candidates go before student panels during interview process

Izzy Gaspar’raj | The Chronicle

Mason High School’s newest Assistant Principal Tina Drake talks to sophomore Alex Riley. Drake had to go before a student panel during the interview process.

Some new staff members at Mason High School have students to thank for their position on the high school staff.

Over the last five years at MHS, student panels have started to become a part of the hiring process for staff positions. The consistency of the panels started to increase in the spring of the 2020-2021 school year when the Inclusive Excellence (IE) Leadership Team participated in these panels.

The student panels were heavily involved in the hiring of new Assistant Principal Tina Drake and Chemistry teacher Phillip Snell.

For the Assistant Principal interviews, candidates rotated through a student panel, teacher panel and administrative scenarios.

Student panel interviews took place in the Harvard Room and included a couple of administrators in the room to help facilitate conversation.

Senior Myles Tavernier participated in several of the administrator and teacher interviews. He was excited to hear that students were being included in an important process that is usually a job for adults.

Tavernier believes that by allowing students to participate, administration showed that they do care about what students have to say.

“Student-principal relationships are very important,” Tavernier said. “I know a lot of students feel like the administration is not as active in this school, so having an option and a voice was kind of exciting.”

Junior Urja Mehta was also on the panel for the Assistant Principal interviews and was shocked that students would be given the opportunity to ask their own questions. Mehta had never experienced being an interviewer instead of an interviewee, and felt empowered in that role.

Mehta said she felt very professional with the setup in the Harvard Room, but also a little nervous. She was worried that due to her age she might not receive the same respect as an adult.

Despite her worries, the candidates for assistant principal were still very professional, bringing their resumés and references with them for the students to review.

“They were talking to me as if they were talking to Dr. Jordan and Mr. Dodd,” Mehta said. “That level of respect was really nice.”

The interviewers on the panel said that they appreciated the professionalism of the meetings and that the administrators took the students’ opinions into account when making their decisions. Panel member Raquel Ramirez, a junior said that the candidates treated them the same as they would an adult interviewer.

“They were very respectful and they took our questions seriously and answered [in] detail, just like they would have if adults were interviewing them,” Ramirez said. “It was an actual interview and our thoughts were counting towards the final decision, so everybody took it really seriously.”

Being able to interview adults for the Assistant Principal position was an eye-opening experience for Ramirez as it allowed her to be involved in what is typically an adult process.

She said she valued the input she and her peers were able to add to the interview process, especially because she believes that student voices and input should be implemented into the school whenever possible.

“I think it added a whole other dimension to the interview, just because it’s not an adult-on-adult conversation,” Ramirez said. “It’s students voicing what they want the school to be like and what they’re hoping to get.”

Assistant Principal Dan Distel is one of the administrative team members who who participated in the interviews. He felt that these somewhat unconventional interviews bring out a different side of the candidate.

Many candidates seeking jobs at MHS talk about building relationships with students but being able to witness the candidates interacting with students brings a whole new perspective to the hiring process because it allows the committee to see the potential employee in action.

According to Distel, with students leading the interview, they were able to observe Drake’s comfort with the students, which was played a big role in the hiring process.

“[Students] invite the candidates to feel more comfortable, which is really helpful in the interview process,” Distel said. “You get to see a more true sense of who the teacher or the administrator is because the kids are good at putting them at ease.”

Assistant Principal Tina Drake was hired for the current 2021-2022 school year and was interviewed by a student panel from the IE Leadership Team.

Drake felt that the students made her interview more enjoyable. Her prior administrative experience led her to value relationships between herself and the students in her school.

“I was more comfortable talking with the students than I was with the teachers for some reason,” Drake said. “I enjoy interacting with the kids better.”

Chemistry teacher Philip Snell, who is in his first year at MHS, was interviewed by a student panel and said he was relieved when he heard students would be present.

One of the aspects that Snell said drew him to MHS is the inclusive culture, and that MHS values participation from everyone, including students.

“It’s so powerful to me if the students are actually an important part of that process,” Snell said. “That’s what it should be.”
Distel also emphasized the importance of having students conduct the interviews, saying that it revealed the habits that the candidates would be using on an everyday basis in the school if they were chosen to be hired.

“Engaging with students is the most critical characteristic we look for,” Distel said. “We won’t get that insight unless we involve kids in the interview process.”

In addition to enhancing the interview process itself, Mehta saw interview panels as her way to leave her mark on MHS. Mehta was grateful for the opportunity, and would jump at the chance to do it again.

“Even the idea of [giving] students the opportunity to make an impact so direct on their school, not only are you deciding the future of the students who are going to come after you,” Mehta said. “You’re leaving your legacy on the school [through] this person you chose.”

Photo contributed by Savannah Libby