Students Should Have Fun Along with Learning, New Principal Says

Paul Papes grew up in Newaygo, so says he’s very comfortable in a small-town setting

Name: Paul Papes

School: Alto Elementary

How do you pronounce your last name? PAY-pess. Everybody asks.

What are your first priorities as Alto Elementary principal? My first priority has been to get to know the people of Alto. I believe that our success as a team relies heavily on building a strong foundation of trusting, collaborative relationships with all stakeholders.

What are you most looking forward to as principal here? Our dedicated staff is committed to working with students and parents to help each child experience success within our school. I’m excited to support these relationships and to build upon the rich culture of success that has been created at Alto Elementary.

What was your previous job? I was a teacher at Rockford Public Schools. I spent eight years as a fifth-grade teacher at Cannonsburg Elementary and one year as a seventh-grade English teacher at East Rockford Middle School. Prior to my time in Rockford, I taught sixth-grade English and coached boys JV basketball, football and baseball and eighth-grade girls basketball at Tri County Area Schools for four years.

How about jobs outside education? I had a (news)paper route, helped out in my church’s elementary classrooms and was an activities director at a retirement home.

College degrees? I have a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Western Michigan University, and a master’s in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University.

How do you like downtown Alto? I love it. I grew up in a small town, Newaygo, so I’m very comfortable in that environment.

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at Alto Elementary? I was very into sports and had a really active imagination. I played a lot with my brothers and sisters but also by myself, giving high fives to imaginary teammates. I always hit a home run.

What advice do you have for your students with first-day nerves? I’d tell them this is a place where they can be themselves, where we’re going to learn together but also have a lot of fun together.

Hobbies and interests? I love being active and spending time outdoors. I enjoy running, sailing and winter skiing to name a few. I especially enjoy outdoor adventures with my wife and kids, like hiking, downhill skiing, taking a bike ride to a local park or sledding.

What inspires you? It is inspiring to be involved in creating a school environment where students feel safe, valued and empowered to reach their full potential. (Outside work) my wife and I are very service-oriented, helping others, and we like to spend a lot of time with our families.

What makes you laugh? My boys make me laugh every day! Each of them has a great sense of humor and they’re all quite entertaining in their own unique ways.

Spouse and children? My wife, Anna, and I just celebrated our 10-year anniversary in August. We have three boys, ages 2, 4 and 7

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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