Flashback: Principal Leads Best-Kept Secret

Principal Leads Best-Kept Secret

January 18, 2006
Christopher Nagy
Livingston Press & Argus

"It's not so much an alternative as it is an option," according to James Perry.

"People get us confused with an alternative school all the time," he said. "They think we're like Renaissance Alternative School (in Howell). Renaissance is a great school and does a great job, but that's not who we are. Our mission is to be a small, personal high school."

Perry, principal of Kensington Woods High School in Genoa Township, calls his school the best-kept secret in Livingston County. Not a tremendous amount of funding is spent toward spreading word about the school, and with only 212 ninth- through 12th-grade students enrolled in the day and evening classes at Kensington Woods, word-of-mouth is also somewhat limited.

However, if the name Kensington Woods doesn't sound familiar, it may be because until this summer it was known as the Livingston Technical Academy, a small high school on the campus of Cleary University that is a sister school to the Charyl Stockwell Academy in Hartland Township, which covers the elementary and middle school grades.

The change in the school's name reflects the different direction that school is headed in today, Perry said. When it opened, Livingston Technical Academy focused on the manufacturing technology field, he said. Now, it's just a regular, albeit smaller, high school.

"A lot of people had misconceptions about who we were because of the 'Technical' in the name," Perry said.

Perry came to Livingston Technical Academy shortly after the school opened 10 years ago.

A psychology major in college, Perry's interest in teaching began after observing schools as part of his undergraduate work and when he sat in with a friend who was going through the master's program at the University of Michigan.

"I was intrigued by what saw," Perry said. "Through that experience, I decided I wanted to go into education."

Perry went through the master's program at U-M himself, and one year later he had his teaching certificate.

"I didn't have a life for a year, but it was worth it," he said.

Observing smaller schools such as Community High School in Ann Arbor, Perry said he always wanted to get into that more personalized educational setting. "Smaller schools seemed to have less bureaucracy, and seemed to allow educators more freedom for innovative forms of teaching," he said.

"There is a small high school movement right now," Perry said. "I'm really interested at looking at models that are working and look at what they're doing to help student achievement."

He was hired as a social studies teacher at Livingston Technical Academy. Because of the size of the school, Perry said he found he had administrative duties as well. When the principal of Livingston Technical Academy left in 2000, Perry was tapped for the post.

"The reason it really appealed to me is that it still allowed me to teach as well," Perry said. "That made the decision a lot easier."

Although Perry said he has sidelined his teaching in the last few years, he'll be picking it up again later this year with a four-week psychology class.

An open house at Kensington Woods High School is set for 4-7 p.m. Thursday. Perry said it will give parents and students alike a chance to see what the school has to offer. Classrooms will be open, with teachers and current students on hand to answer questions.

"A lot of students find it helpful to come in and talk to other students about what this high school is all about," Perry said.

Perry said there is still some room in the high school's day program, which could probably accommodate about 200 students. As it stands, Kensington Woods has right around 170 students in the day, and roughly 40 in the evening.

As far as the future, Perry said he doesn't see Kensington Woods ever expanding its enrollment too much.

"I never want to get too big, he said. I think about 400 students is as big as we would want to get."

"The students here, they can get a little protective of the school, which is nice," Perry added. "Because of the capacity of the space we have here, there is never the feeling that the floodgates have opened."

About James Perry

Age: 39

Family: Wife, Ellen; father of Mazey, 3

Occupation; Perry is the principal of Kensington Woods High School, on the campus of Cleary University in Genoa Township.

Hobbies: Skiing; backpacking; sailing

FlashbackJessie Pratt