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Westwood Middle School principal named Principal of the Year

A middle school principal, as any middle school principal will attest, has to spend lots of time doing lots of things — all at once.

That’s why John Conrad, who is the principal of Westwood Middle School, kept apologizing, and cross-talking, into his cellphone on the next-to-the-last day of school last week.

While simultaneously communicating through a mask, at the proper social distance.

“I’m sorry, what were you asking? It’s a little crazy right now.”
“No, hold up, buddy. You still need to sign.”
“OK, I guess that’s everything.”
“Hey, I miss you guys, too. Everybody stay safe and have a good summer.”
“I’m sorry, what were you asking?”

Being recognized

Conrad last week was named Principal of the Year by the West Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.

He finally saw clear to talk about the award, which was the reason for the call.

The announcement went out the same day Westwood students and their parents were arriving in the parking lot so they could gather what remained of an academic year for the annals.

Their mission? To retrieve (finally) coats, jackets, notebooks, pens, pencils, goofy drawings and everything else from their lockers.

Those catch-alls of the archeology of student life were turned into two-month time capsules because of COVID-19.

Previously, no one bothered to take much, since everyone thought classes would be back in session after two weeks.

Westwood Middle started the school year from its perch atop River Road with 345 students in grades 6-8.
Which meant for a lot of traffic for the pickup last week.
Which also meant a principal was too busy to enjoy being Principal of the Year.
Not that he minded.

It was at least remotely “normal,” in that he was again interacting with students and parents.

“When all this hit,” he said, referring to the pandemic, “we just focused even more on our kids.”
Academically. Emotionally, even.

Call it leadership, said Eddie Campbell Jr., the superintendent of Monongalia County Schools.
“For John, the role of principal isn’t a job,” he said.
“It’s a calling.”

Which is a pretty good word choice, said a principal who used to be an English teacher.

Education, for life

Westwood Middle was built just after his time, but Conrad grew up in the school’s River Road attendance area.
At the former Westover Junior High, he formed an appreciation for those teachers and coaches who dug into their work.
He started thinking it might be cool to do what they did for a living.

That paper he wrote on career exploration for an assignment at University High made him dig in.

Conrad took a bachelor’s in English at WVU and went back for a master’s in secondary education.
He taught English at his high school alma mater before becoming an assistant principal there.
Mountaineer Middle was another administrative stop.

Conrad has occupied the principal’s office at Westwood for three years.

He’ll eventually be recognized in Washington, D.C., with his principal of the year award, along with honorees from across the U.S. and American schools overseas.

“It’s pretty humbling,” he said.

If he ever penned an acceptance speech, he would thank Mon Schools, his Westwood Middle family and his family at home.
His wife, Stephanie Ballard Conrad, is a WVU administrator. They have two young daughters who were also dismissed early from school this year, with that note from the coronavirus.
“We’re seeing our way through,” he said.

(Not) being recognized

On various occasions throughout college, Conrad saw his way as a representative of The Dominion Post.
He communicated through a mask of glorious anonymity.

Stephanie Ballard, his then-wife-to-be, had an internship in marketing and promotions at the newspaper, which later turned into a full-time job.
Her then-husband-to-be was enlisted for the role of “Mr. Newspaper,” the DP mascot.

Conrad encased himself in the large, inflatable Mr. Newspaper costume for appearances at county fairs, WVU pep rallies and the like.
The get-up could be hot and unwieldy, but there was a great payoff.
He could dance in public, with neither shyness nor shame, as there was absolutely no chance of being recognized.

“Oh, yeah,” the Principal of the Year said, laughing.

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