By kalea hall
To Chris Berni, new head principal at Austintown Fitch High School, being an administrator is all about building a community.
Berni, an Austintown resident, graduate and parent, is excited to take on yet another venture with the Austintown School District.
His plans include continuing the growth in excellence the district already has seen.
“I am a hometown guy,” Berni said. “I believe strongly in living in the community where you work as principal.”
Berni graduated from Austintown Fitch in 1987 and went on to study at Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pa.
Out of college, he received a job as an elementary teacher for United Local School District in Hanoverton. He furthered his education at Ashland University in Ohio and in his eighth year at United Local, he became an assistant principal.
Berni always was waiting for a position to open up in his hometown. He received the position, which pays $87,000, in May.
“I never once interviewed anywhere else,” Berni said. “I want to serve the families of where I live and of where I am from.”
“It is a privilege and an honor to be the head principal of the school I graduated from,” he added. “This would be a chance to reach 1,800 students.”
In 1999, Berni joined Austintown Middle School as an assistant principal. He learned and honed his skills as an administrator from Daniel Bokesch, who was the head principal at AMS.
“As a teacher, you see what the principals do, but you never really know the intricacies, but he did well [learning],” Bokesch said.
Much of what makes a principal’s job is making connections through communicating with the teachers, other administrators, parents and the community.
One of the main goals, he said, is to “support and advocate the entire teaching staff.”
“They are the ones making an impact from an instructional point of view,” Berni said.
In fall 2009, Bokesch moved to work in the central office and Berni became head principal.
“He is a Fitch leader,” Bokesch said. “He loves the district and wants to see it at the top academically and athletically.”
Growing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program at the high-school level is what Berni and other administrators and teachers hope to accomplish in the 2014-15 academic school year.
Austintown began using STEM during the 2012-13 school year for seventh- graders.
This year, the program will expand to the eighth-grade level. STEM promotes creative thinking, collaboration and problem solving, all skills future employers are demanding.
“It is 21st-century learning,” Berni said.
Berni will share his leadership role with three other assistant principals, two of them are new to administrative positions.
Berni will help mentor the new principals as he did with five other principals from Austintown.
Berni welcomes the challenge of being at the end of an educational program and having the chance to present the final product of students who have been in Austintown since kindergarten.
Berni has four children in the district from third grade to 12th grade.
In the spring, Berni will be able to hand his oldest daughter, Hannah, her diploma.
Berni’s wife, Debbie, also an Austintown graduate, is an eighth-grade math teacher at AMS.