New assistant principals bring experience to Baldwin High School
Tears streamed down Candee Nagy’s face as she spoke of Antwon Rose Jr., the 17-year-old Woodland Hills High School student who was shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer in June.
“It’s a lot,” she said. “He was in my office two weeks before.”
Nagy, who has been in education for 26 years, has seen a lot in the last five working as middle school principal in the Wilkinsburg School District and as assistant, then interim principal at Woodland Hills High School. During her four years at Woodland Hills, 16 students have died due to gun violence — eight in the last year alone.
“I have seen things in five years that some people won’t see in 35 years, and I don’t wish it on anybody,” she said. “It’s trauma. You experience it directly and indirectly.”
Nagy was hired for the 2018-19 school year along with Joe Sebestyen to serve as two of the assistant principals at Baldwin High School. The two bring a wide range of experience to the district.
During interviews for the job, both focused on students and “how the decisions they make as an assistant principal should always be individualized and respectful,” said Baldwin Principal Walter Graves. They both believe every student has a story and when educators take the time to listen, it demonstrates a willingness to understand, he said.
“In a short amount of time, they have lived up to the words they spoke during the interview. They are walking the talk for sure,” Graves said.
Sebestyen, who received his bachelor’s degree from Clarion University in social studies education, studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary, where he worked alongside students with different backgrounds from across the world and learned about various international curricula.
After graduation, he got a job at Southwest Middle School in Jacksonville, N.C., located near a military base in a low-income area, he said. After a year, he took a job at Friendship Public Charter School in northeast Washington, D.C.
After a year, Sebestyen, who has coached football throughout his career, took a job at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Va.
“It’s one of the most diverse schools in the country,” he said. Students represented 55 nationalities.
There, Sebestyen said he feels he grew as a teacher.
While he talks highly of that job, the Hermitage, Pa., native’s dream was always to work in Allegheny County. He received his master’s from Virginia Tech and, after getting married, the couple decided to come back to this area.
He worked as a ninth-grade geography teacher at North Catholic, then was hired as the assistant principal of curriculum and technology at St. Stephen’s Academy, an alternative placement school in Zelienople.
After a year there, he was hired in Baldwin, which reminds him of Robert E. Lee High School in terms of the district’s large, diverse population.
Sebestyen said he was excited to join the district with its personalized learning initiatives, one-to-one program and participation in the League of Innovative Schools.
“This is a place where I want to put down roots,” he said. “I think I bring a lot to the table just in terms of the unique experiences that I’ve had and that I’ve taught in almost every educational setting.”
Like Sebestyen, Nagy also brings a rich background to Baldwin.
Nagy, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Edinboro University and a master’s in math and science secondary curriculum from Slippery Rock University, began her teaching career in a high-poverty area in Blytheville, Ark.
After returning to Pennsylvania, she spent 17 years teaching biology and science in the Laurel School District. She returned to Edinboro for her master’s in educational leadership and principal’s certification.
She wanted to make the move to an administrative position to affect the lives of more students than just those in her classroom.
When she applied for the middle school principal job in Wilkinsburg, she was told it was for someone “ready for a challenge.”
“It was trial by fire, but I loved my job and I loved my kids,” she said.
Nagy then took a job at Woodland Hills High School as assistant principal. When she started, she and the high school principal were the only administrators for about 1,500 students.
After four years at Woodland Hills, including one when she served as substitute high school principal, she came to Baldwin.
To Nagy, her job is all about connecting with students.
“I develop relationship with kids,” she said. “I’m like the mom away from home, and I make sure that I find connections with them.”
“I’m mom-ish, but I hold the line,” she added.
Nagy hands out tokens of appreciation to students and kindness coins when they do positive things. Sometimes, it’s as simple as them handling a situation better than they could have.
However, when they don’t handle things well, Nagy doesn’t like to correct students in the hallways, preferring instead to bring them to her office to talk. Sometimes the conversations aren’t easy, but that doesn’t deter her from working to find a way to connect.
“It’s knowing how to de-escalate people, even parents,” she said. “You learn the art and craft of just being genuine with people and validating their feelings.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.