EAST GREENBUSH, NY — Columbia High School Principal John Sawchuk will retire at the end of the calendar year after 18 years with the East Greenbush Central School District, the district announced Monday.
“I have very, very fond memories of Columbia,” said Sawchuk in a statement released by the school,“I think our efforts to work with all kids and give them every opportunity to be successful is what I’m most proud of.”
Sawchuk first came to Columbia in 1999 as an assistant principal and in 2006, was named head principal. During his tenure, the school’s graduation rate rose five percentage points, from 87 percent to 92 percent and for special education students, it went up 15 percent, from 64 percent to 79 percent.
On February 9, 2004, Sawchuk and Michael Bennett, now the Assistant Superintendent for School Administration at Schodack CSD took down a 16-year-old gunman who opened fire in a Columbia High School hallway.
“You never really get over it. You try to learn from it,” Sawchuk told the Associated Press in 2013. In the days, weeks and months following the incident the principal helped add security officers and stepped up emergency drills at the school.
“He has always been student centered and focused on improving opportunities for kids,” said Bennett in an email to the Upstate Courier on Wednesday. “John and I have shared many experiences through the years.”
As principal, the district said Sawchuk supported increased instructional time, hiring quality staff and the addition of new and innovative programs, such as Credit Recovery, Jump Start, CAP and Operation Graduation.
“John Sawchuk has left significant footprints at Columbia High School. We have big shoes to fill,” said East Greenbush Superintendent of Schools Jeff Simons. “Columbia has achieved significant prestige under his leadership. John has shaped a positive climate for students and staff, enhanced the connections of the school and its students to the community and promoted leadership among students in service to each other. Perhaps most notably, John is an advocate for students. Despite the many challenges some students face, John takes a personal interest in them and won’t permit them to fail.”
Sawchuk will retire on January 1, 2018, and plans on relocating to North Carolina with his wife.
“I’m very content,” he went on to say. “We prepare our kids for success once they leave Columbia. The achievement part is one aspect, but our extracurricular programs and our character development make this a great high school. I’m indebted to my assistant principals and the entire staff.”
Before coming to Columbia, Sawchuk served as an assistant principal at Cohoes Middle School and taught social studies in Ballston Spa.
The school district has started an immediate search for a new principal and hopes to have one hired by Nov. 1.