A native of Newcomerstown has been awarded a statewide honor in Massachusetts, being presented the Bertram H. Holland Award as High School Principal of the Year for 2012.
A 1992 graduate of Newcomerstown High School, Buckey is the son of Jack Buckey and the late Carol Buckey. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Asbury College, a master of education degree from Harvard University and is engaged at the present time in doctoral studies at Northeastern University. His first administrative assignments were in the Littleton, Massachusetts school district, where he served as assistant principal of Littleton High School for four years before accepting the position as Principal there. In 2008, having served as principal for three years in Littleton, he was appointed principal of Nantucket High School.
His arrival at Nantucket High School coincided with one of the most difficult periods in the history of the school, according to information provided by the awards committee.
"From 2007 through 2009, there was a contagion of adolescent suicides, three by students and several others by graduates," they said. "In addition to these tragedies, there were other areas of educational and administrative concern.
"The school had not made a satisfactory response to the recommendations of a 2005 NEASC visit, the evaluation system was ineffective, and the morale of the building was at a low ebb. Mr. Buckey decided that he would tackle all the problems, in the belief that progress in any area would raise the chances of success in others. (His assistant principal, John Lucchini, cites John Kennedy's favorite proverbial saying that a rising tide lifts all boats, and says that John Buckey is the rising tide for Nantucket High School.)
"John Buckey defines his two paramount objectives as providing a safe and positive school environment in which each student feels that he or she" belongs", and continuing the academic and community progress that has been made since his arrival. His method of doing this involves maximum participation in local charitable and public benefit organizations, a very active role in suicide prevention that resulted in a citation from the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Coalition in April of 2010, and a wholesale revision of the curriculum to provide more diverse and appropriate offerings.
"Mr. Buckey has also opened up the Advanced Placement and Honors courses to any student wishing to enroll in them, without prerequisites or other preliminary requirements. This has led to increased enrollment in these courses, and a general raising of the academic level in the school.
"Immediately upon his arrival, Mr. Buckey worked with the staff to implement a fair and constructive evaluation system, with the result that there was a better system in place by the spring of 2009. Concurrently with this initiative, he organized a program to create in the school a Professional Learning Community, providing the staff copies of Professional Learning Communities at Work, by Dufour and Baker to guide their discussions. In order to provide increased variety of offerings in this special school located twenty-seven miles at sea, many semester courses were introduced, developed by the teachers and adapted to the special needs of the district's students.
"Throughout all these academic activities, however, the need to avoid the tragedies that had marked the school's recent past was never far from John Buckey's mind. Taking his cue from Bill Bond's statement that "the number one thing schools can do to improve safety is to provide every student with a sense of belonging" he brought about changes in the school that made it better able to move toward support of individual students. He introduced training of all four classes in the Signs of Suicide (SOS) Program, added to the personnel in the guidance department and also added a social worker and a student assistance program coordinator to the staff. Recognition programs for students and staff members were instituted, and he added to his contact with students by a series of Principal's List Breakfasts.
"In summary, John Buckey moved into a very difficult situation, and proved to be an ideal person to have done so. His two overreaching goals, to increase academic achievement for all students and to ensure a safe climate and culture for all students, have moved toward achievement. In addition, the morale at the school has improved notably, and the collegial work of the faculty has been noteworthy. Measured by both participation and outcomes, progress has been demonstrable and heartening."
As part of the nomination presentation, Superintendent W. Michael Cozort said, "His peers respect his knowledge of the district and appreciate his advice when making tough decisions. They, and I, know that he will advocate for his school, but understands that the needs of the district sometimes supersede those of one school. John's integrity, work ethic and desire to excel are qualities that are evident in everything he does."
In an article about the award in a local newspaper, The Inquirer and Mirror, Buckey said, "I feel confident that we have accomplished a great deal together, come together as a learning community," Buckey said. "We have a greater breadth of course offerings for our students, we implemented half-credit electives, so there are myriad new courses. We have Latin, nutrition, child development. Next year there will be intro to drama, intro to music tech and a song writing course.
"One of the first things you need to do is get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats, and I think we've done that. I'm proud to be the principal here and I'm very fond of our faculty and stand daily amazed at what they can do in the classroom. So many of them go above and beyond. They're here late, tutoring students, here early providing extra help, sponsoring new clubs and activities - just a lot of innovative and enthusiastic energy. That's the feedback I get from parents, too."