It was the kind of job that countless aspiring teachers take right after graduation. When Ryan Brown signed on as a long-term substitute in the Steel Valley School District fresh out of Clarion University, he had no inkling of the role the district would play in his career. But in those first six months, Steel Valley left an indelible impression upon him.
“I’ve always said that the teachers here at Steel Valley are some of the most committed, dedicated, outgoing teachers that I've ever seen. They go above and beyond to meet the needs of these students,” Mr. Brown said. “Learning from these teachers prepared me to become the teacher that I would become at South Allegheny and now as a principal. I owe Steel Valley a lot in that regard.”
Some 12 years later, Mr. Brown has come full circle. He was hired earlier this summer as the Steel Valley Middle School Principal, bringing him back to the district that helped him get his start.
“Coming back, it almost felt like I didn't leave in a way. Most of the staff is still here that was here when I when I was here 12 years ago,” he said. “People that I have met that maybe I didn't know as well have been so welcoming. And I just feel like I almost picked up where I left off, which has been really nice and comforting in getting going here.”
Education was a natural career path for him. Mr. Brown grew up in a family full of educators. His uncle, Richard, worked in special education for the Pennsylvania Department of Education; his father, Regis, served on the West Jefferson Hills school board; and his brother, Robert, became a teacher. He was also inspired by the coaches and teachers he had at Thomas Jefferson High School. It was his uncle’s work with special education students that ultimately guided Mr. Brown toward that specialty.
“I just thought that that would be just such a rewarding job,” Mr. Brown said.
He spent the bulk of the past 12 years as a learning and emotional support specialist in the South Allegheny School District. As much as he cherished the work, he wanted to have a larger impact outside of his small circle of students. That desire led him towards administration and a return to Steel Valley.
“It’s so rewarding to see the impact you have on them and see them reach their goals and be successful,” Mr. Brown said of his time as a learning support specialist. “But when you’re in those roles, you're limited to the effect you can have because you only see so many students. In an administrative role, you're making decisions that have an impact on all the students in the building.”
Mr. Brown’s background in special education has helped him develop a perspective that emphasizes the whole child, not just a discipline report or test scores.
“There's so many things that go on outside of these walls that impact them,” he said. “The positions I've had and being able to understand that allows me to better serve the students here at Steel Valley, and also the teachers, to help them be aware of some of the situations that our students might be facing.”
Much of his first few months will be spent observing and learning, but the goal is to raise the bar for what a successful transition from middle school to high school looks like. His primary goal is to offer support in any way he can and to enhance the student-faculty connection, perhaps through some classic showdowns like a student-faculty basketball or dodgeball game.
“It's even more rewarding when the students have a say and help in organizing those things. From what I understand, we have a pretty strong PBIS program here. I'd like to build on that,” he said. “We've had really big turnout for student government in the middle school. I think those two teams can work collaboratively to make opportunities like that available to our students on a more regular basis.”