Beekmeyer: Commitment to Community

Olivia Griffin, Assistant Editor

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“He even fixed his door to be more open,” Charlie Abelmann, Laboratory Schools director, said when describing how U-High’s new principal, Paul Beekmeyer, has already made strides to introduce himself to everyone at Lab and integrate himself.

Isabella Kellermeier
LIBRARY CHAT Talking through the college processs, as well as the pressures of senior
year, new Principal Paul Beekmeyer catches up with students at the library tables.

Mr. Beekmeyer lived in New York with his wife while he was working at the Brooklyn Friends School before starting at Lab July 1. Previously, he lived and worked in Australia.

While most students have only seen Mr. Beekmeyer at all-school events, he’s been doing much more on his own to meet more members of the U-High community.

“It’s really great he was off with sophomore retreat doing service learning with them,” Dr. Abelmann said. “I’ve appreciated his contributions to the senior leadership team.”

Outside of student life, Mr. Beekmeyer continues to reach out to new people.

Noah Rachlin, dean of teaching and learning, said, “I’ve seen him in meetings invite people into the conversation. He’s ensuring that everybody’s viewpoints are being heard.”

When you were a kid, did you imagine yourself being the principal of a high school?

No, no, no, I didn’t go straight to teaching. Even when I left school, being a teacher was not on my mind. You know, I did some university and then I left, and then I worked for a while, because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

So for me, I got into education through summer camp. … When I was, I think 20, I was in Australia. I was working for a sports company, …but it kind of felt purposeless. So then I applied to work at a summer camp in upstate New York. I stayed there for actually 17 years.

My deciding point was not “I want to be a principal,” but it’s “I like working with young people” and then “I also like working in diverse communities because camp you have people from around the world” and then I thought, well, “I like teaching,” and then I went into administration.

Is there anything you wish you knew when you were in high school?

I enjoyed school. That’s probably why I’m here now. [There are] other things I probably would’ve done better if I would’ve really thought about what opportunities open and close at different times of your life. But then again… you never know where roads take you … The fact is that everything will be OK, most of us will be fine, life will change, you can relax a lot more.

How do you think a principal should act in front of students?

I guess what I’m thinking about, what I’m modeling as a principal, is I’m thinking about certain behaviors that I want students, and other people to also follow, which is being respectful, being obviously responsive. Picking up garbage, working collaboratively is the same thing that I want out of everyone here. And having some fun. Yeah, that’s important. School is still a fun place. We forget that.

Are U-High students similar to those you’ve taught before?

Absolutely… I mean young people are interesting. But they have some things they’re passionate about, some things they try, some things they do because they feel they should do it. You’re torn between all these different spaces, finding out what you’re interested in. How to please parents or adults around you. Of course, college is a big piece…I think what I see which isn’t unique here, but I see I think more of is a lot of different individual interests.

And I actually take it back. I see that in all schools. If you talk to people, they’re interesting, I mean, if you take the time to get to know students then, you know, because I’m not judging you as a collective. You’re individuals, so I can’t compare Lab School to Brooklyn Friends, ’cause what I’m doing is I’m putting you all into this box, and if I compare individuals, well none of you are alike, and none of you are totally different. Because that’s what it is.

How do you have fun here?

It’s getting around and seeing different things like the club fair was really fun. Yeah, that was, that was a really fun time. And also talking to the adults here — they’re really interesting people — and talking to the students. There were really interesting people in this room.

Actually, one thing, back to modeling, I will say, there is an investment here, and I think it’s not just here. I think it’s cultural, where we feel if we’re not running around stressed, we’re not busy. And I feel there’s this connection where the answer if someone says “How you’re doing?” You have to always kind of go, “Oh, I’m so busy.”

And sometimes it’s fine to go, “I’m OK.” And sometimes it’s OK to go, “Yeah, I’m not actually that stressed. I’m having quite nice day. And the weather’s good. And that’s interesting.” So one thing in terms of kind of how a principal should behave, it doesn’t need to be frantic. Like, there can be calmness to this job, and there can be calmness to a school.