Neil Beahan usually saves paperwork for afternoons or weekends. That’s because the principal of the Southern Delaware School of the Arts wants to be with students as much as he can.
“I try to stay out of the office as much as humanly possible,” said Beahan, visiting classrooms and teacher meetings to know what’s going on. Plus, with “three times as many concerts” as other schools, SDSA families see Beahan afterhours, too.
He doesn’t put in those long hours for an award, but that didn’t stop Beahan from being named Delaware’s Middle Level Principal of the Year for 2014 by the Delaware Association of School Administrators.
“Under Neil Beahan’s guidance, Southern Delaware School of the Arts has become one of the highest-performing schools in the state of Delaware,” wrote Indian River School District Superintendent Susan Bunting.
He has been part of district for 33 years, starting as a teacher.
“That’s just always what I wanted to do,” said Beahan, who used to help his classmates and younger kids in the neighborhood.
Becoming a music instructor at Selbyville Middle School in 1981 was a “great way to combine my love of teaching and music. … My father wanted me to be an engineer,” he quipped. But Beahan loved it, and still has student cards from over the years. Plus, his name (pronounced “BAY-an”) sounds similar to “band,” which seemed a perfect fit for his musical profession.
He moved to SDSA in 2005, then became an assistant principal at Sussex Central High School in 2007.
Beahan has been the principal of SDSA since 2009. He didn’t know what to expect, but now “Every day is so, so intense and unpredictable. I’ve grown to like the unpredictability,” he said.
“I like my job. I’m lucky I got a staff that works very hard, kids that come off the bus smiling,” Beahan said. “And every day they give you a new challenge. I like that.”
The big challenge is “keeping everybody on the same page,” including students, staff and parents.
SDSA’s mission is arts integration. Despite a strong performing and visual arts program, SDSA is not a performing arts academy. Instead, teachers use art in core academic subjects. That means science students might learn the periodic table by singing or integers in math class by dancing on a giant number line.
Beahan compared it to learning the ABCs with the “Alphabet Song” — it just becomes ingrained. Plus, project-oriented learning is the way of the future, he said.
“Neil’s extensive background as a music teacher made him uniquely qualified for the challenge of developing students’ artistic talents while also providing them with exemplary academic instruction,” Bunting added. “Hundreds of students have benefitted from his outstanding leadership. I congratulate Neil on this well-deserved honor. He has truly made the Indian River School District proud.”
“All the other administrators in this district — … everybody really helps each other,” Beahan said. If somebody gets a good idea, they’ll share. If Beahan has a question, he’s comfortable calling any of his colleagues.
“We all get such tremendous support from Dr. Bunting in the Central Office. That’s not true in every district,” he added.
He won the honor for the middle-school level, but SDSA actually has students from kindergarten to eighth grade. So the staff must be versatile and knowledgeable in everything from child development to academics to discipline.
“I love it. I like to watch the kids grow and change. And we get to see the high schools vie for them because they’re smart kids,” Beahan said. “They’re very good kids. They think out of the box.”
Music still calls to Beahan, who plays percussion in a community band. He also gets to play golf, though he misses coaching it.
As the state winner, Beahan is eligible for the National Principal of the Year Award. Sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and MetLife, it annually recognizes school leaders “who have succeeded in providing high quality learning opportunities for students.”