Thornapple Kellogg School District

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Principal Leaves Big "Princess" Shoes to Fill

"I realized when I was teaching at middle school, kids loved it when I was a little bit goofy. Ultimately, I think if you make yourself vulnerable, kids see that it's OK to be vulnerable too. They see their principal or teacher not caring what other people think about the way they dress and it's OK.  They realize it's OK to be different. They see me or their teachers wearing the wacky hats and socks and all of sudden it's cool," he said.

He's done just about everything a principal can do to encourage and celebrate reading and learning with students. He's jumped out of an airplane, kissed a pig, camped overnight on the roof of the school, ate disgusting concoctions of food created by students, took on the egg roulette challenge,  led all the students and staff in a Zumba lesson, got duct taped to a wall while dressed as a princess, and let students give him a princess makeover - complete with lipstick, eyeliner and yes - even dazzling princess shoes!

"Kids just love seeing you be a little bit goofy. It's worth a million bucks to these kids," said Gelmi. "I could hand out monetary prizes, but it wouldn't mean as much. It doesn't have that personal touch.  It wouldn't create the smiles and feelings and memories. "

That doesn't mean he takes learning any less seriously than anyone else.  He's passionate about seeing students succeed and realize the sky is the limit when they are given opportunities. He focuses on celebrating positive behaviors and building positive relationships with his staff and students. Mostly he's passionate about making real connections with his students and making sure they all know he cares.

Gelmi said he's enjoyed his years at TK and has learned how the school can truly be a sense of community. "It can be the sense of place to be and the place to go in the community," he said. "It's important to build a culture with the community and have the community involved. This is a great place. It's a place where our administrators and staff always put kids first."

His advice to the next principal at Page Elementary:  "Enjoy yourself. Don't take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the people you work with and the families and the community. Give high 5's and hugs and smiles to the kids. Serve lunch every now and then. Don't get too bogged down in the office - get out and be with the kids."