When Joseph Scheideler took the helm at Canton Middle School in 2004, it was the start of a new era in the town’s educational system.
To the casual observer, the change from Canton Junior/Senior High School may have seemed insignificant. After all, students in grades 7 and 8 still attended classes in the upper level of the high school building off Simonds Avenue.
But for Scheideler and a core group of educators, it signified a dramatic shift that allowed the district to incorporate changes supported by research.
The change allowed the middle school to develop its own schedule, further separate educational spaces and most importantly implement a team approach and aspects such as “advisories” where students gather daily in small groups to plan service projects, discuss issues, solve problems and interact with students outside their close circle of friends.
“In my opinion, it’s the single biggest way to affect change in the school,” Scheideler said of the advisories.
For Scheideler, those and many other changes were important both from an educational and social point of view, being a time when young people go through so much change and need extra support.
“It’s a tremendous time of change,” Scheideler said. “It’s exciting but it’s also a very vulnerable time. I think we’ve done a great job creating an environment that supports them.”
Now Scheideler has been recognized for his work and honored as the Connecticut Association of Schools 2013 middle school principal of the year.
Karen Packtor, assistant executive director of the organization said Scheideler’s ability to develop relationships with the students, staff and community set him apart.
“He has a special gift for engaging children and an insistent concern for the well-being of every student in his building,” she said.
Canton superintendent Kevin Case lauded Scheideler’s hard work, dedication to the district and that ability to push students academically and support them emotionally.
“He is one of the most dedicated and hard working administrators I know,” Case said.
Case said Scheideler’s recent surprise and well-received cameo as John Wayne in the school’s Happy Days production is one small example of his ability to relate to students and parents.
“That just shows how invested he is and how connected he is to students,” Case said.
Nominating Scheideler for the award, with support from administrators, was Bill Donovan, middle school counselor.
Scheideler has helped make the school a great place to work and attend school, Donovan said.
Case and Donovan said Scheideler always makes decisions based on the students’ best interest.
“That love of teaching has never left him,” Donovan said. “It’s evident in his interaction with the kids.”
Scheideler began his teaching career in 1972 at Our Lady of Sorrows, a Catholic Grammar School in White Plains New York.
He had obtained a Bachelor’s degree in History from Fordham University and a Master's Degree in social studies education from Iona College. He later completed a 6th Year Degree in Curriculum and Administration from Central Connecticut University.
He came to Canton in August of 1977 as a social studies teacher. From the early to mid 1990s he also served as athletic director, splitting his time between those duties and teaching.
In July of 1996, Scheideler was named dean of students for Canton Jr./Sr. High School and later vice principal.
In the early part of the century, he and others began pushing for a change at that level.
“The more I did that job the more it became evident we could do better,” Scheideler said. He added that he didn’t feel the school was run poorly but rather that students would be better served with a separate schedule and other changes that allowed implementation of the middle school philosophy.
It wasn’t a new concept, even in Canton, but Scheideler said the support of the late superintendent Fred Kelly and then the Board of Education, made it the right time.
In addition, many of the staff members from that era remain, making a huge difference, Scheideler said.
“We’ve had an incredibly stable faculty here,” he said.
Scheideler also said so many educators have inspired him and praised his colleagues in Canton and elsewhere.
"I accept this in recognition of the middle school folks who do the job every day," he said.
Scheideler’s wife Barbara is a retired educator, having taught special education in Bristol and other places.
Their three children Patrick, Jennifer and Kevin were all educated at Canton Public Schools.
Scheideler will be honored at a National Association of Secondary Schools in the fall and is in the running for the MetLife/NASSP National Middle School Principal of the Year Award, which comes with a $5,000 MetLife grant for the school.
But while he’s honored by the recognition, Scheideler still talks about another honor, that of the 2008-2009 Middle School of the Year designation. He feels that was an honor for the entire community and a validation of the staff's hard work.
Scheideler added that he's grateful he was chosen to lead the school during a time of great change.
“It was an honor to have the opportunity to start Canton Middle School,” Scheideler said.