Tulpehocken elementary students, and their parents, will see two new faces at the district’s two elementary schools as Amanda Cipolla steps in as principal at Penn-Bernville and Mark Brown as principal of Bethel.
“Part of what I would want to communicate is that we absolutely selected two super people,” said Bonnie Benfer, former principal at Penn-Bernville and elementary supervisor for this fall. “And they are primed to take the district to a whole new level. I love the district so it was definitely my goal to push for people who I knew were quality people. And I know we got them.”
Cipolla is entering her 10th year in education and Brown is entering his 15th. Cynthia Jenkins, the former Bethel principal who is starting a superintendent position this school year, was principal for seven years and Benfer will retire the first week in January marking 17 and a half years with the district.
“I feel extremely fortunate, and I know that Mark does too, that we ended up here at Tulpehocken because what I’ve seen in the past 30 some days has impressed me to an entirely different level,” said Cipolla.
“The thing that impressed me about Tulpehocken is that it’s rooted in tradition but at the same time they’re moving forward; being progressive,” said Brown. “A lot of small community schools don’t do that, but Tulpehocken is. And they’re preparing kids for the future.”
Out of a field of more than 40 applicants, Cipolla and Brown were chosen and have felt like a part of the Tulpehocken team under Superintendent Dr. Edward Albert since day one.
“As a new person, you often don’t feel like it’s your place to give your two cents and to comment,” said Brown. “But that’s not the case here. We were in a school board meeting [recently] and, 30 days on the job, we were both giving our input. And our input was expected and accepted. That’s not something that you’d see in a lot of places.”
Brown has coined the Tulpehocken Area School District as “Happy Land” which Cipolla agrees with. Benfer added that the two first time principals took to the model that the school district has adapted and took the time to call the parents and students to introduce themselves and offer for any of the families to stop by the schools or make appointments to do so if the families desired. Both Brown and Cipolla have seen quite a few visitors during the summer already.
Cipolla’s educational background includes four years as a sixth grade learning support teacher, RTI coordinator (head math and reading coach) for the past five years and this past school year acted as the dean of students. Her previous school district was a SWEBS (School Wide Effective Behavior System) school and she is glad to be at a school that is also part of the program. In her spare time she enjoys riding her ATV, camping, exercising and spending time with her husband and two dogs.
Brown’s educational background includes five years of teaching fourth grade in Virginia before starting in Pennsylvania, three years at the sixth grade level, five years at the fifth grade level and one year as a third grade teacher. Benfer pointed out that those levels all have the PSSA testing. He was also a technology lead teacher and provided technology training to fellow staff. In his spare time he likes playing guitar, water skiing, snow skiing and spending time with wife, four-year-old twins and dog.
The two new principals have become good friends which will aid them in keeping the two elementary schools as similar as possible, something that Jenkins and Benfer had done.
“Cindy and I worked very closely together and these two have already formed a very close bond,” said Benfer.
“We talk every day and we’ll continue to do that,” said Cipolla. “We’re trying to make the two buildings as consistent as possible.”
In helping with consistency, the district decided to hire for both principal openings as the same time rather than one in the summer for Bethel and then in the fall for Penn-Bernville. This option also allowed for Benfer to step into a mentoring role with the new principals.
“I think the district felt we had really strong people coming in and they didn’t want to have any gaps between what parents were used to,” said Benfer. It’s one thing to get used to new administrators, but a whole other thing if procedures and processes are not known. So to prevent that from happening it was Dr. Albert’s brain child. What a great idea.”
Brown and Cipolla are very glad to have Benfer as a mentor and believe that it will help with the transition for everyone involved.
Both admit to being nervous, but at the same time excited and are at the point in the summer when they are looking forward to having the kids back in the schools and getting the year started.
“I want to get to know all of the students’ names,” said Cipolla on goals. “That’s a big goal of mine. And not getting lost in the building.”
Brown agreed with Cipolla’s points.
“I think both of us want to build relationships with the community,” Brown added. “Foster the relationships that are already there and build relationships with new businesses and incoming community members.”
In the short amount of time that they have started to work within the district, they have both found out what a special place Tulpehocken Area School District is and have seen the way employees view their jobs within the district.
“We didn’t know it was Happy Land when we applied,” said Cipolla. “I think we were both impressed with the humanistic profile on the website. I had no idea what it was like here. I feel so lucky.”
“It’s rare when you come into a place and every person I’ve talked to said ‘I love working here,’” said Brown.
“I absolutely love it,” said Benfer. “So for me it was really imperative to get the right two people to take care of my gem. It’s not just my gem, Dr. Albert feels the same way. But I feel very, very possessive of the district and what the district means and the philosophies here. So for me, and for the board, it was really important to get the right two people. And they’re the right two people. I know it.”
Cipolla and Brown are ready and anxiously awaiting for the students to start their first day of school on Aug. 25.