Rico to Become BFA’s Newest Principal: From a “Department of Few” to a “Department of Many”

Polly Rico

Polly Rico

Luke Holcomb, Writer

Since the announcement of his retirement by the current Bellows Free Academy principal, Brett Blanchard, there has been some anticipation about who will fill his shoes.  That person is Polly Rico, who has been hired as BFA’s new principal. The Mercury sat down with Rico to speak with her about this new role.  

Rico has been a member of the BFA community since 2003, where she was an English teacher for 17 years. She described the experience as “the days are long and the years are short,” and how she feels as if, when she looks back on her time at BFA, she has simultaneously just gotten here and been here forever.

Rico similarly accredited BFA’s overwhelming sense of tradition and shared identity. 

“I know a lot of people say that and at times it feels like a cliche, but, really, it’s pretty phenomenal,” Rico said.

She also pointed out the supportive and welcoming environment that the BFA community offers. Rico said she has worked at schools where teachers were territorial and unwilling to share their materials, but once she was welcomed into the fold at BFA, everyone was incredibly open and inviting.

Her sense of community was developed from how long she has been at BFA. Rico said that even going to the grocery store, she would be greeted by current students, alumni and parents of students. According to Rico, her years as a teacher have allowed her to build relationships with people in not only the BFA community but the Franklin County community as a whole.

Rico explained that her primary motivation for wanting to become the principal is her recent shift in perspective at BFA. In the past three years, Rico has deviated from her role as an English teacher to that of an instructional coach for students and teachers, starting at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

Her goal in doing so was to help community members adjust to the change from in-person to online and hybrid learning because, when BFA had switched to a proficiency-based grading system, there had been no form of support for teachers or students alike. Rico described the feeling as that of drowning, and said it was “the hardest year of [her] life.”

Rico, having already been through a similar situation when the pandemic began, wanted to create a system of support for the people at BFA, and thus took a step to help those around her.

Since adapting to her new role as an instructional coach, Rico says she has gained a heightened view of the community at BFA. While working as a teacher, she was in a department of a few, and now, as a school-wide coach, she is in a department of many.

Between her change to an instructional coach and her having sat on multiple boards for many years, Rico said she was able to see a broader scope of the BFA community and said it gave her a sense of what leadership could look like. She claimed that sitting on school boards allowed her to “see another layer of education” and her position in different niches at BFA helped her to form different perspectives.

According to Rico, working as a teacher shaped her knowledge of the classroom environment, being an instructional coach helped her know what it was like to support people’s growth and attending school boards benefitted her in knowing the legislation and mandates from the state.

Rico said that these varying perspectives “converged into [her] want to create a very welcoming sense of community, along with how [to] help people improve to be their best selves.”

She was confident in her ability to create a welcoming community and balance the many requirements of education, and thought that “if not [her], then who?”

When asked what her goals as the principal would be, Rico said she strives to create and build upon a culture where everybody that walks through BFA’s doors feels accepted and does so willingly. She pointed out that while she chooses to go to BFA every day, there are many students that aren’t given the same choice, and Rico wants to produce a climate that causes students to voluntarily walk through BFA’s doors.

As for what she will do differently as principal, Rico said “I don’t think it’s any surprise that I think we need to look at our behavioral and attendance system to make sure it’s functioning properly.” She plans to attempt to tweak the system and replicate its bright spots to allow it to run more smoothly in the future, with the ultimate goal of creating a system that carefully harmonizes function and efficiency with care and openness toward its students.