If you walk into the CoGo’s on Main Street as the clock ticks toward 9 p.m. on any given Friday night, it’s possible you’ll run into new middle school principal Clay Stone doing a quick snack run. The snacks aren’t for two-year-old Charlie or second grader Lynette, who are tucked away in bed. They’re for Mr. Stone and his wife, Ashlee, as they enjoy a movie night.
Munhall has become home for Mr. Stone and his family. Born in Alabama and raised in Ohio, he and his family moved to the Pittsburgh area several years ago. After graduating with his bachelor’s and master’s in special education from the University of Alabama, Mr. Stone began his teaching career in Tuscaloosa. With a young family, he and his wife wanted to be a little closer to their extended family. They landed in Homestead for a year before finding a house in Munhall.
“My daughter is currently at Park Elementary right now,” Mr. Stone said. “She's going into second grade and so I kind of look at this as this as a fun way or cool way of I get to try to make this building something that I would want her to attend. That’s the real appeal to me.”
Mr. Stone worked as a special education teacher for Pittsburgh Public Schools before becoming an assistant principal for one of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s special education schools. Earlier this year, Steel Valley opened a position for supervisor of pupil services to work with Renee Kozusko, the director of pupil services.
“That was just a cool opportunity for me to work very close to home,” he said. “And that was hard to pass on.”
Though he was still new to the district when the middle school principal job opened, Mr. Stone was encouraged to interview. He was offered the job and accepted. Mr. Stone knows the middle school’s past as being a strength of the district. He’s already spoken with parents, teachers and community members who believe it can be that once again.
“They know what the school was and they want it to get back to there,” he said. “And I want to help them get back to there, not just because I love living in this community and I love being here, but I also want my daughter to go to a school that I feel comfortable sending her to. I think this is that place and I'm hoping that I can do that.”
Mr. Stone wants to bring a more inclusive and trauma-informed approach to ensure that kids’ needs are met while ensuring all students have access to rigorous instruction, social opportunities, extracurricular activities, and more. He plans to continue the PBIS program in some capacity, though it will likely be restructured. He will collaborate and talk with teachers and administrators to discover what has been working and what needs improved.
“I think I have that level of experience and background that I know how to make sure we're meeting kids’ basic needs, that’s going to long-term create success in the classroom for them,” he said.
The policies and programs will come in time. The first goal is to build the connections that can foster a positive atmosphere within the school on a daily basis.
“My first thing is I have to build trust and relationships with the kids, with the staff, with the families, with the community,” Mr. Stone said. “I think building relationships and trust is probably the most critical thing that I can do right now.”
As he meets with parents, students, teachers and all other middle school stakeholders, Mr. Stone wants to assure them that he will be in their corner.
“I want them to know that I'm accessible. that I care about what happens in this building because it has an impact on my own family,” he said. “And I need them to know that I'm here for the long haul. I have these long-term goals that I could see for this building moving toward.”