by Hedy Yang ’22
Published Mar. 10th, 2022
On December 23rd, Principal Popadiuk said his final goodbyes after over 25 years at Montgomery High School. Though he may not physically be in the building anymore, his legacy and spirit continue to live on in everything from the daily functionings of MHS to the values that guide staff and admin.
In the Social Studies Department
In 1996, Mr. Popadiuk began his journey at MHS as a history, psychology, and sociology teacher. As the years progressed, he added girls’ basketball coach and class advisor to his resume. It was in these experiences that Mr. Popadiuk uncovered many of the passions and values that guided his future work as principal.
“When I walked away from teaching, I did not miss teaching psych, or teaching this battle or this war or this political argument,” he says. “It was much more about the kids and the relationships.”
Making Changes: Block Scheduling, Unit Lunch, CLTs, and Sports
Mr. Popadiuk furthered this focus on relationships and the importance of “student-first” decision-making when he stepped into his role as principal in January 2010. “I really felt that people needed a couple things,” he remembers. “Students needed downtime, they needed stress relief, and they needed a schedule that was conducive.”
The result? Unit lunch and block scheduling were born.
Prior to the block schedule, students attended anywhere from 7-8 class periods a day and were assigned the workload associated with it. They were also often unable to socialize with friends because of differing lunch periods.
After a year of researching, observing nearby districts who had adopted block scheduling, and training staff to teach in longer class times, MHS adopted the block schedule in the 2011-2012 school year. The effects were immediate and significant: “It was such an improvement for the health and wellness of the students and [in decreasing] the stress levels,” says Mr. Popadiuk.
The 50-minute unit lunch also became a time for staff to interact and collaborate on lesson plans in what became known as CLTs, or Collaborative Learning Teams. CLTs gave staff who taught similar courses time to create common assessments, discuss what students might be struggling with across classes, or share teaching strategies that worked well. Mr. Popadiuk views it as the necessary “professional time that professionals in the real world have.”
In addition to making modifications to the school day that would address student stress levels and encourage collaboration among staff, Mr. Popadiuk continued to emphasize the importance of community and relationships through his instrumental role in bringing various sports to MHS.
He worked with Coach Milich to create MHS’s first freshman football team in the fall of 2000; the JV team was formed in fall of 2001 and the varsity team followed in fall of 2002. He was also responsible for bringing girls’ softball and volleyball to MHS in later years.
To him, sports, in particular football, are a great way of bringing the community together: “You take a look on a Friday night and the whole community’s there. You have the band, you have the dance team, and the cheerleaders, and the football… it’s just an event that brings things together.”
Leader, Mentor, and Practical Joker
Though the changes he implemented continue to reflect in many aspects of the school day, what Mr. Popadiuk will ultimately be remembered most for is his approach to leadership and his impact on those who have worked with him.
To Mr. Bulusu, Mr. Popadiuk always represented a source of strong, dependable leadership. He points to Mr. Popadiuk’s work in guiding MHS through the turbulent times of the COVID-19 pandemic, describing simply: “You see him and you know everything is in control. [You] don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen.”
Mr. Popadiuk’s leadership went further than being just pragmatic and reliable, however. As Coach Milich recalls, in every decision he made, Mr. Popadiuk was guided by the notion of doing what was right. “He never did what was popular…he was always about what is the right thing to do, no matter who might be upset.”
For Mr. Popadiuk, being a strong leader means consulting his fellow staff, administrators, and students for their input, and emphasizing that everyone’s opinions matter equally. So while the principal ultimately makes the decisions that affect the building as a whole, Mr. Popadiuk also made an effort to create groups like the School Leadership Team that amplified others’ voices in the decision-making process.
Vice principal Mr. McAveddy suggests that Mr. Popadiuk’s focus on collaborative decision-making was responsible for creating the positive culture and sense of family he believes characterizes MHS: “When you feel as though what you think matters, it really does lend itself to… why people want to be here.”
Current principal Mrs. Pino-Beattie reflects on the different roles in which she knew Mr. Popadiuk: a boss, a friend, an older brother, and a mentor.
As her mentor, she emphasizes his ability to have difficult conversations that facilitated her growth as an administrator. “It’s not easy to get feedback from people. It’s not easy to hear where you’re falling short, and sometimes even where you’re doing well,” she says. “He was always willing to give that, and he saw the potential not just in me, but in all of us.”
She recalls a time early in her career when her hasty response to a question invoked an intriguing response from Mr. Popadiuk: “He looked at me and he said, ‘I’m sure it’s in there somewhere, but what I didn’t hear you say is that you’re making this decision because it is what’s best for kids.’ Never since that day have I ever made a decision that I haven’t at some point asked myself, ‘is this what is best for kids?’ And that spirit is interwoven into everything we do here.”
A fun fact about Mr. Popadiuk that Mrs. Pino also heavily emphasized was his predilection for practical jokes; in many ways, the younger-sister older-brother relationship she had with him was reflected in their prank wars. “Nobody would know that about him because he looks so serious all the time,” laughs Mrs. Pino.
Prior to his departure, Mr. Popadiuk taped photos of himself and left coconut air freshener, Mrs. Pino’s least favorite scent, all around her new office to perpetually remind her of his presence. Mrs. Pino believes she played her best joke this past Halloween when she asked staff to dress up as Waldo from the “Where’s Waldo” children’s puzzle book series and taped “Where’s Pauldo” posters all around the school.
The pranks lasted up until Mr. Popadiuk’s very last day when he walked out to his car to find it completely covered in post-it notes. Mrs. Pino remembers fondly that “it took us 45 minutes to clean that off when he was leaving, but it kept us from crying as he walked out the door.”
Mr. Popadiuk has certainly left his legacy on MHS and in many ways, his spirit continues to live on in everything from our no-homework breaks to the senior trip to the emphasis of family and caring among staff and students. Yet it is safe to say that the MHS community has left its mark equally on Mr. Popadiuk himself.
“Montgomery is a very, very special place,” Mr. Popadiuk says. “I bled green and gold for over 25 years…I will always cherish it. I’ve moved on in my career, [but] I would never be in education anywhere else but Montgomery.”