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Administrator reflects on negatives, positives of the past decade

Assistant principal reflects on the past 10 years in education

Comstock Park — Assistant Principal Tony Petkus sits in a corner office of Comstock Park High School, where he has a good view of the school parking lot and the front desk. 

Petkus is a familiar face to those at the high school, having been there for more than 10 years. When he came to the school, he found the “staff is wonderful and the community support is phenomenal,” he said, and just never left.

During his tenure, Pektus has worn many hats, serving as athletic director, co-principal and now assistant principal — although his favorite part remains working with students, he said.  

“I’ve had some unique background experiences that have formed my philosophy about understanding our time on this earth and what we need to do and, yeah, we’re gonna screw up, but tomorrow the sun’s gonna come up,” he said.

As School News Network celebrates its 10th anniversary, we sat down with Petkus to reflect on the changes he has seen over the past ten years.

What drew you to Comstock Park? Petkus, who is wrapping up his 24th year in education, started in Fennville as a teacher and then their athletic director. “I wanted to get into more of the assistant principal/principal role and I knew the longer that I was in athletics I’d probably lose that touch when it came to curriculum and working with students,” he said. 

Petkus said Comstock Park was a larger district than Fennville, offering him more opportunities for growth, which he was able to do, working up into his current position of assistant principal. 

What was your first year like at Comstock Park? “My first day here … I actually had to do my first parent meeting and really hit the ground running. We had a lot of fun and the community was really supportive of me coming in.” 

Pektus highlighted some athletic accomplishments, such as the football team making it to the semifinals three years in a row. The high school also hosted several regional and state events which gave students an opportunity to mingle and learn that “we all have stuff in common. So, it’s cool to see what athletics brings together.”

What has changed in education over the past 10 years?

On technology and cell phones: “Ten years ago, a good chunk of kids had (cell phones), but not everyone. I’d say nearly every kid has one now. I think it’s a double-edged sword. I think it can do some wonderful stuff, but I also see the backside of it where it has, I personally think, weakened kids’ ability to communicate effectively with adults verbally.

“So as beneficial as cell phones or technology have been, we have our work cut out with some of the soft skills that we’ve lost. I think it’s important for those kids to do those little things: a good firm handshake, looking someone in the eye, saying ‘Thank you,’ opening a door for people. Doing little things can go a long way.”

On college and trade school: “Ten (or) 15 years ago, we were always about college, college, college, and obviously that has changed quite a bit now. Trades have been huge, pushing kids into the trades, pushing kids into work-based learning, getting those experiences.”

Today, Petkus said he sees more flexibility in the school day, with many students participating in the Kent Career Tech Center, the West Michigan Construction Institute and other work-based learning programs. “I feel like the traditional classroom is slowly dissolving and it’s a good thing getting kids out there for hands-on experience, because that’s what they need. They need to see what the world is all about.”

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted education? “I think that it was tough on education, absolutely. The loss of learning that happened during that time, the social skills that we lost during that time … We’re close to recovering, but I don’t think we’re there yet.”

On virtual learning: “I believe you have to be in person to get a true education — there’s so much more than just the classroom and the books … having those friendships, being able to talk, the work ethic, coming to school on time. There’s so much more than just the (classroom) a kid can get when they’re actually attending school.”

On the silver lining: “There’s some good stuff coming off (the pandemic), too. I think we’re at one time sick of Google Meets and all these virtual meetings, but I think it provides an opportunity for more efficiency. We’ve done some career fairs where we’ve Googled people in. We had a graduate that’s tied into NASA. She spoke to our kids via Google. Ten years ago, we’d never thought of that.”

Assistant Principal Tony Pektus started his Comstock Park career as the athletic director and has since worn many hats within the district

What lessons have you learned from the past decade? “First, you have to sit back. You can’t make snap judgments. You’ve got to process and look at the big picture. With that being said, I think (secondly) you have to challenge the process and ask, ‘Why?’

“I think the other piece of it is to be transparent. … If you are just open and honest and transparent … you can agree to disagree, but in the end we’re here to support your kid.”

Read more from Comstock Park: 
Seventh-grader talks about gift of confidence provided by prosthetic arm nine years ago
A veteran superintendent looks back on 10 eventful years

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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