Oakview Principal: New Job 'Like Winning the Lottery'
John Bernia is taking over as principal of Lake Orion middle school.
When John Bernia left his post as assistant principal at Oakview Middle School two years ago, he never dreamed he would come back as its principal.
Bernia, 31, of Oxford said he was nervous and excited when he took over on July 1, replacing Alice Seppanen, who retired after nine years as principal of Oakview Middle School.
“When you’re taking over for someone who is really good and had a good career, you have big shoes to fill,” he said.
From teacher to principal
Bernia has spent his entire career with Lake Orion Schools. After serving as a seventh-grade social studies teacher for five years at Scripps Middle School, he became assistant principal at Oakview for one year. Then, he moved to Waldon Middle School to serve as assistant principal for two years.
Originally from Richmond, MI, Bernia earned three degrees from Oakland University: a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in educational leadership and an education specialist certificate.
When the principal position opened at Oakview, Bernia said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to return.
“I always wanted to come back here,” he said. “I enjoyed my time here. I fit in really well.”
Loving Lake Orion Schools
Besides having a high-quality staff, the school system is in a great community where families are always willing to help, he said.
"This is definitely a special place to work and a special place to be," he said. Bernia said he went into education because he thought it was a great way to reach out and touch the future.
“The next generations of people who are going to reshape the community go to school here right now.”
He chose to go into administration to make a greater impact on children.
“I’m somebody who has a record of putting kids first,” he said. “We need principals in education who have that mindset.”
Bernia is most proud of an after-school tutoring program he started at Waldon Middle School. The Principal’s Homework Club targets at-risk students and might be something to bring to Oakview as well, he said.
In addition, he is proud of the positive relationships he builds with students and families.
Overcoming challenges and meeting goals
As principal, Bernia oversees 55 faculty and support staff and about 570 students. There are a few changes at the school this year, however.
With a slight decline in enrollment and a reorganization of the schedule, the school lost four teaching positions. Students will now have six periods instead of seven. But the change, he said, will give teachers a little more time to work with the students.
Despite having to face the challenges of a shrinking budget, Bernia said his goal is to maintain the high level of education the school is known for.
Last year, Oakview earned the prestigious designation as a National School to Watch. In addition, he will continue looking for ways to foster new programs such as an anti-bullying program that was implemented last year.
Overall, Bernia said he is excited about the new school year.
“The teaching staff here and the parents and the support staff are all people who are talented and so innovative,” he said. “The opportunity of being a principal of a school with a dynamic, innovative professional staff is a thrill. Getting to work with this group of people is like winning the lottery.”
Bernia lives with his wife, Jennifer, and two dogs, Sparky and Leyland, who are named after Detroit Tigers’ managers Jim Leyland and the late Sparky Anderson. Bernia also enjoys reading and spending time with friends.