Wieland and Schwartzman on their transition into new roles at Hills

The Trailblazer sat down for an interview with the new principal and assistant principal to discuss their new positions and the reopening of school.


Caity Parkes

Principal Tim Wieland and Assistant Principal Charleen Schwartzman stand outside the entrance of Hills to greet students.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed the new faces waving students into school each morning: There is a new principal and assistant principal at Pascack Hills. In March, the Pascack Valley Regional Board of Education approved Assistant Principal Tim Wieland to become principal after Glenn DeMarrais’ departure for Valley, and mathematics teacher Charleen Schwartzman to fill the position of assistant principal in May. 

These Hills leaders have taken on new positions during a difficult time. The duo has had to work together to figure out how to manage a transition into school during the pandemic. Despite July and August being “rough” according to Schwartzman, she and Wieland worked hard with staff and administrators across the district to ensure student and staff’s safe return to school this fall. 

Superintendent Erik Gundersen on Twitter
Assistant Principal Charleen Schwartzman, center, talks to freshmen during their orientation on Sept. 2.

Wieland said that “there were lots of times” when it seemed school may not have reopened, but that the students’ cooperation with mask-wearing and other safety measures has made the “health and safety part, [and] those concerns kind of [go] away a bit.”  

The Hills leadership appears to be a well-oiled machine. Teamwork and collaboration are a top priority and have made all of this possible, according to the administrators. Referring to herself, Wieland, and retiring Athletic Director Phil Paspalas, Schwartzman explained “we laugh hysterically and work well together,” adding of the entire district, “everyone looks out for each other.” 

Wieland had more to say about their collaboration and the role of Paspalas, who is also an assistant principal but leaving at the end of the school year. During these times, said Wieland, “attendance is weird,” and on top of that, Paspalas “has the athletic side, which is completely overwhelming in this world.”

@PHAthletics on Twitter
Paspalas in 2018. He has been with the district for over 13 years.

He continued, “at the same time, we [Wieland and Schwartzman] have both had to lean on him more than usual” during the transition into new positions. “I think the constant fact that the three of us work really well together and enjoy each other’s company is huge.” 

It is not only these three Hills leaders that are on the same page. DeMarrais, now at Valley, is still a part of the team, speaking with the new principal and assistant principals almost daily, both as friends and as an advisor during this difficult role transition. “What we value is very much aligned with Mr. DeMarrais.” They “are all coming from the same place and working toward the same thing.”  

What we value is very much aligned with Mr. DeMarrais.

— Tim Wieland, Hills Principal

Despite the many challenges, the new leaders are loving their positions, with Wieland calling his new role his “dream job.” The two agreed the best part of their positions so far has been seeing “students back in the building.” 

Of course, the greatest challenge facing educators across the country has been Covid-19, but this is less of a challenge for those at Hills according to Schwartzman. She recalled that “[t]eachers have said to me, ‘I feel really comfortable now,’ and [they are] are really starting to get creative.” 

Reflecting on their own experiences standing in front of the classroom, both the principal and assistant principal admitted to missing their roles as teachers. Wieland explained that he thought his desire to be a classroom teacher would slowly subside the longer he was an administrator, but that “it didn’t fade away, I still miss it.”

Jared Mitovich
Principal Tim Wieland directs freshmen to their classes during orientation Sept. 3.

Schwartzman even mentioned that she would have enjoyed finding new ways to get creative in her teaching amidst the challenges of the pandemic, calling the act of teaching “magical.” However, they both agreed that their new roles are something they enjoy, with Wieland closing the discussion of the topic with “I love being principal, and I would change that for anything.” 

Wieland has been an administrator at Hills for years now, but this is Schwartzman’s first year outside of the classroom. Though her new role may have seemed like a bit of a surprise to students, Schwartzman had been considering a change in position for some time. She addressed her job change saying, “I’ve been a leader, I’ve supported colleagues, [so] it felt natural but happened really fast.”

I’ve been a leader, I’ve supported colleagues, [so] it felt natural but happened really fast.

— Charleen Schwartzman, Hills Assistant Principal

Summarizing her experience acquiring her certification to be an administrator and her internship with deMarrais and Wieland, Schwartzman said, “I got my hands in everything, I got so much experience, it was awesome.” 

In their new roles, Schwartzman and Wieland are already making plans for the future of Hills, both short-term and long-term. Shwartzman stated that it is hard to do so “in the midst of a pandemic,” but they have plenty of hopes and ideas to make this situation the best it can possibly be. Wieland expressed his concerns for the class of 2021, saying, “I think if I was a junior at the end of last year, there would be a part of me thinking ‘at least it wasn’t my senior year.’” 

It’s so important, especially for our seniors, to find a way to still have good memories… After the class of 2021 graduates, I want them to walk away being able to hold on to this moment and say ‘we made the best of it.'”

— Tim Wieland, Hills Principal

He elaborated, “It’s so important, especially for our seniors, to find a way to still have good memories… After the class of 2021 graduates, I want them to walk away being able to hold on to this moment and say ‘we made the best of it…’ We need to make sure, even though it’s hard to learn and teach at this time, we still need to make sure all of the seniors have something that they can look back on.” 

Schwartzman agreed, mentioning the “drive-through graduation. Maybe that’s something we still do for the class of 2021.” She added that it was “so fun,” and explained that “we will find a way to do things that we couldn’t.” 

Courtesy of Superintendent Erik Gundersen
The Class of 2020 graduates participates in a drive-by parade through Montvale and Hills’ campus, where faculty cheer them on.

Of course, there are plans and hopes aside from those concerning Covid-19. For one, Schwartzman his high hopes of improving “relationships between kids and adults in the school, [and even to] expand it into the community.” This idea could start with “Trailblazer kids going out and interviewing custodians and making ‘get to know you’ posters,” explaining the importance of “humanizing people around the building and building relationships.”

Additionally, she mentioned the creation of a “full-blown senior project, [where] all seniors have to do a project and presentation” similar to a program that she learned of through a friend at a different school. She wants it to be “something they get to do because they are passionate and excited about it” –– for example, building a car, creating a cookbook, or completing a service project. After completing the project, “seniors [would] present to underclassmen, and the underclassmen sign up for what interests them,” saying that it would be similar to a career day. 

The new principal and assistant principal said they are working hard to create an inclusive, supportive, and exciting environment for all students at Hills, both during these difficult times and afterward. Students and teachers have described a compassionate team leading Hills, a group that loves their jobs and their students and that are excited to make a difference in the lives of Hills students and staff. 

Superintendent Erik Gundersen on Twitter
Ms. Katherine Donahue’s AP English Literature and Composition class on their first day of school in-person, Sept. 4.

Now the focus is education and getting involved in extracurricular activities and getting involved in school outside of classes.

— Charleen Schwartzman, Hills Assistant Principal

For students, it can be difficult to have a positive attitude when looking at the unfortunate circumstances of this school year. Schwartzman provided some optimism:

“Now the focus is education and getting involved in extracurricular activities and getting involved in school outside of classes,” she said. Although “you have to be ready for change”, this is “the fun part” of figuring out how we can all support each other and work together despite the challenges before us.