New Northrop principal hopes to make a difference

Erica Almas is Northrop High School’s new principal. (Cindy Larson)

By Cindy Larson

New Northrop Principal Erica Almas loves teaching, but felt she could have a bigger impact as an administrator.

“I miss the classroom every day,” she said, but a desire to have a bigger influence in education led her to her current position.

“I love being a leader,” she said.

Almas was hired by Fort Wayne Community Schools in 2016 as assistant principal of curriculum and instruction. In 2018 she became curriculum coordinator. But she discovered working in the administration building wasn’t for her. “I wanted to be with the kiddos,” she said.

She was named Northrop principal in June. So now she’s back in school, greeting students every morning and slipping into classrooms periodically to observe.

Almas grew up in Churubusco and attended kindergarten through 12th grade there. As a kid she liked to pretend to be a teacher. Her mom even got her a chalkboard for her room.

“I’ve known I wanted to teach forever,” she said.

She originally thought she wanted to be an elementary school teacher until she had Gary Smith for social studies at Churubusco. “He made things very relevant,” she said.

After graduating, Almas went to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where she got a Bachelor of Science degree in education in 2008. She then went on to get her Master of Arts degree in educational administration and supervision from Ball State University in 2012.

While she was working on her master’s degree, she was living in southern Indiana, working as a social studies teacher and volleyball coach at Brown County Schools. She credits coaching with teaching her leadership skills.

Before coming to FWCS, Almas was dean of students at Perry Township Schools for a year and assistant principal at North Adams Community Schools.

When she and her family moved to Fort Wayne, Almas could have applied to any of the four districts in Allen County: Southwest, Northwest, East Allen or FWCS. She chose FWCS for a specific reason.

“I read about Dr. (Wendy) Robinson and was excited about the opportunity to work for her,” Almas said.

Robinson is the current FWCS superintendent, who has announced she will retire at the end of this school year.

One aspect of Northrop that Almas loves is the demographics — students from many different parts of the world.

“I love the multicultural aspect,” she said.

Of course academics are important to a principal, but Almas said schools also must make sure “we’re producing good humans.”

She referred to soft skills, or “employability” skills — those intangibles that go beyond academic success. Employers today complain that these skills are sorely lacking among young people entering the workforce, she said.

Almas ticks off a list of what kids need: grit, perseverance, the ability to collaborate, punctuality, confidence and leadership.

It would be nice if education was the sole focus of schools, but in this era much attention needs to go toward security measures to keep students safe, she said.

Northrop has a police officer in the building during school. Teachers are often in the hallways. The vestibule is secure, so visitors must go through the office and show ID before they are escorted to their destination on campus. Cameras are everywhere.

But the best way to prevent a tragedy, Almas said, is for teachers to know their students. “What we preach to our teachers is relationships.”

Teacher pay is a perennial issue, and Almas could see the effects of it this summer, when they were trying to hire math and special education teachers, and they didn’t have the applicant pool they had in the past. She doesn’t blame the shortage on the district, however. She blames it on the state.

“I think the state of Indiana could value teachers more,” she said.

Aside from her responsibilities at Northrop, Almas and her husband, Brandon Almas, are raising two children who are 3 and 4 years old. She says they love when they get to visit school with their mom.

Being a school administrator and a mom is “manageable,” she says, largely because her husband “is a wonderful partner.”