Niles High School principal reflects on career after announcing retirement

Published 10:01 am Friday, October 22, 2021

NILES — A longtime local educator will be saying goodbye to the world of lesson planning, curriculum crafting and student advising.

Niles Community Schools announced last week that Molly Brawley, principal at Niles High School, will retire effective Dec. 31 after 37 years with the district. According to NCS, Howard-Ellis Elementary principal Michelle Asmus will become the high school’s new principal Jan. 1.

A Kalamazoo native, Brawley’s career started in NCS as an English teacher at Niles High School, a position he held for 15 years before being named assistant principal at the school. After 11 years as the high school’s assistant principal, Brawley accepted a principal position at Oak Manor Sixth Grade Center.

In 2016, Brawley was named principal at the high school, returning to the school where her career began. While she did not have a retirement date in mind, after shepherding the school through the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brawley felt it was time to step away and be with her family.

“I thought about what would be a perfect time, and I don’t think there is a perfect time,” Brawley said. “I just thought it was time. I think we’re in a really good place here at the high school. I’ve got a really, really good staff, office staff and good co-leaders with me; we have a new athletic director. I think we’re just in a solid place.

“When my son and his wife announced their pregnancy, I thought that was the sign. It’s time to go.”

“When I look over my career, the best things that really happen are the day-to-day stuff,” she said. “Just talking with kids when I was in the classroom, it was working with kids. I was the yearbook advisor. I was a school paper advisor and am very proud of those things. As I went into administration, it’s still the kids. There’s no better place to be than working with young adults. Even when I was at the sixth-grade center, I loved it too.

“Kids are the best. They’re the funniest little human beings in it and they keep you laughing.”

As both a teacher and administrator, Brawley recalled several highlight moments she experienced with the district, including hosting former President George W. Bush in 2004 and being awarded the Chase School of Change Award from Fordham University and the Chase Manhattan Foundation in 2000. This national distinction recognized the school’s success in bringing significant change to its entire academic environment.

“We won a trip to New York City,” Brawley said. “That was a highlight for me because I was the one that authored it.”

In addition to her love for teaching, Brawley enjoyed watching her children grow up in the district.

“It was fun to be in the building when they were here,” she said. “Watching them grow and appreciate me as a principal but not always appreciating me being everywhere and knowing everyone. I always said if I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom that being a teacher and an educator was the next best thing because I got to be with my kids, and I was just really proud to do it in Niles as well.”

The education landscape has changed significantly since Brawley began her career 37 years ago, with the biggest change being technology.

“I remember getting the internet and someone showing me how it worked,” she said. “I’m doing everything from taking attendance by hand to bubbling it on scantrons. Now it’s just a click of a button on the computer. Social media can be negative, and it impacts our building way more than people think, but for the most part, technology advances have been very good.”

Another key change Brawley has seen over the years is the community’s increased reliance on schools for services.

“Communities across the nation are relying more on schools for everything,” she said. “Whether it’s healthcare needs or mental health needs, a lot of that is falling on schools and I feel really fortunate at Niles that we take all of that very seriously. We have resources for kids, and if we can’t do it, we’ll find that resource.”

Brawley also believes that expectations for students today are different than previous generations.

“I think expectations of kids are a lot higher than they used to be,” Brawley said. “Everybody is expected to go to college or find a post-secondary career now. We start working on that very early on and kids are much more resilient than people give them credit for. In a lot of ways, kids haven’t changed it at all. They just want to belong. They want to enjoy time with their friends, and they want to be successful. So there are expectations that are a little bit different but in general, what kids want is what we all wanted. When we were in high school, we wanted a place to belong and to be able to succeed.”

While excited to embark on the next chapter of her life, Brawley will not be disappearing into thin air. She plans to attend events including musicals, concerts and sporting events.

Even so, she admits she will miss working in a district that has given her so much.

“There was not one day in 37 years that I was ever bored,” she said. “I never ever said, ‘I’m going to work,’ I always said, ‘I’m going to school.’ It just was so rewarding, day and in day out, even though it didn’t always feel like it. I will miss my students, the pace and my wonderful staff. My office staff is amazing, my teachers work so hard, and my support staff. Custodians, bus drivers, everybody is part of the family and not seeing them every day will be odd to me, but I still plan to be around, too. I’m a Niles Viking for life.”