Helping students find their way

Owosso High School Principal Bruce Holladay sits at his desk Thursday.

OWOSSO — Bruce Holladay remembers being tagged as a college-bound student in the 1990s, an experience that left him unexposed to a wide variety of career opportunities.

Now the principal at Owosso High School, Holladay wants to ensure students explore as many different career opportunities as possible, with the ultimate goal of providing students a pathway toward their future, whether it be entering the workforce, going to a trade school or technical college, or attending a four-year university.

“I think we did a disservice to a generation of students by presuming that college was right for everyone,” Holladay said Thursday. “I believe that every student should at least have the opportunity to see what’s available in two areas. I believe students have to love what they do, but I also feel it’s our job to at least have them consider things that they’re good at.”

Holladay was hired by Owosso Public Schools in May, receiving unanimous support from the district’s board of education. He succeeds longtime high school principal Jeff Philips, a 19-year employee of the district who retired in June after 37 years in public education.

Holladay brings 18 years of educational experience to Owosso, having launched and facilitated digital media programs at numerous school districts throughout southeast Michigan before joining the Taylor School District as principal of its career and technical education center and virtual learning academy in 2018.

While incredibly passionate about students, Holladay admits he never seriously considered becoming an educator, the profession merely found him.

Holladay began his professional career as a television producer and director at the NBC-affiliate station WDIV Detroit. A few years into the job, a friend reached out to inform Holladay that a school in St. Clair County, near where he grew up, was looking to launch a digital media program.

“I always felt like I wanted to (teach) maybe at the college level, but the opportunity presented itself (in St. Clair County) in 2003 and that’s when I jumped into education,” Holladay said. He was initially unsure of his decision, working evening shifts at the TV station throughout his first year teaching.

The producer/director ultimately fell in love with teaching, building a program at St. Clair before moving on to lead digital media programs in Lapeer, Oakland and Genesee counties. Through the years, Holladay remembers colleagues saying, “You’re going to make a good principal one day.”

“I said, ‘You got the wrong guy. I’m a teacher, I am the boots on the ground in the classroom, that’s where I want to be.’ But over time I think it’s sort of that self-realization that if my goal was to have a positive impact on student learning, I was certainly doing that in my classrooms, but being a building leader was an opportunity to ultimately reach and have a positive impact on more students by working with not only the students but the staff.”

Holladay took on his first administrative job at Taylor in 2018, leading the district’s career and technical education center and virtual learning academy. He described the experience as “a great training ground,” adding what ultimately drew him to Owosso was the district’s extensive career and technical education offerings.

“I thought my background in that would (provide) an opportunity to take a look at all of the great things already happening and perhaps move some of those forward by offering even more high skill, high wage, high demand career pathways for our students,” Holladay said.

The district has already begun to do some earnest work with Xello, a college and career readiness software that asks students what they’re interested in and helps them uncover what their individual strengths are through a variety of skills tests.

“We need to know what are our students good at, but we also have to marry that with what are our needs locally in terms of what are employers looking for? Where are the deficits? How can we help create a pipeline from high school to employment, a pipeline from high school to an apprenticeship or training program, a pipeline from high school to college, all while being mindful that we are in the community of Owosso and we should, whenever we can, address local needs first,” Holladay said. “I believe that will come through partnerships with businesses and organizations in the community, bringing them to the table when we’re talking about curriculum or career and technical education and getting frequent feedback on what it is that they need help with most.”

While promoting student achievement, Holladay also believes its the important to maintain the social and emotional piece in the educational setting.

“When people walk in, they may not smile because it’s 7 a.m., but I want them to feel like this is a safe place where people care about them,” Holladay said.

Holladay credits the staff at Owosso for helping him get acclimated in the district, describing the many men and women as “true professionals.”

“They have certainly guided me and filled me in on the pieces I need to know to be an effective leader and I’m grateful for that,” Holladay said. “Just from what I’ve seen in a couple short months, I’d put them up against any high school staff in the area, really in the region. We do great things for kids in Owosso and it’s through the lens of student engagement and achievement.”

Superintendent Andrea Tuttle said she’s thrilled to have Holladay in the district, noting he’s not only a great fit, but also someone who makes others better.

“Mr. Holladay is a student-focused leader who is managing all the responsibilities of a high school principal, in addition to embracing the Owosso traditions and creating and leading opportunities to ensure Owosso students are prepared for their future as productive members of society,” Tuttle said. “Mr. Holladay joins Owosso with a wealth of International Baccalaureate Programme, teaching, career and technical education, and administrative knowledge and experience. He is an enthusiastic and caring individual who has already created many positive relationships with staff and students.”

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