S2E4: Everything and Everyone Matters

James Ryan is the proud building Principal of Maplemere Elementary School in the Sweet Home Central School District (Amherst, New York). James started his career as a social studies teacher at Sweet Home High School in 2007, worked as a Dean of Students at Sweet Home Middle School, and has most recently transitioned into his current role. The theme of Maplemere Elementary is “Where Every Child Has a Champion”, based on Rita Pierson’s powerful TEDtalk. James has been married for ten years to Lauren (an educator who he would describe as “far superior to him”). Jim and Lauren have two children Charlotte (8 years old) & Griffin (2 years old).

“I have been a self-contained teacher for 10 years. I work with students with autism and intellectualdisabilities- it is very easy to feel like you are on an island and in fact that is how I felt most of my career. I haven’t felt true inclusivity from a principal (and I have worked for 3) until Jim Ryan came to Maplemere. From day 1, he advocated for our students to be able to participate in SABAH (a program that provides adaptive ice skating for students in the winter and ends in a performance at the Buffalo Sabres hockey arena). He has laced up his own skates and taken to the ice to help ensure that my students felt comfortable, confident and safe – what administratordoes that?? He rallied over 40 staff, district administrators and community members to come and watch our final performance on a Saturday when school is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. When Maplemere was announced, a large roar eruptedfrom the crowd, I had several teachers come to me from other districts saying how special our Maplemere community is- this is a true testament to Jim Ryan. Since becoming principal at Maplemere our self-contained students have also been afforded opportunities to show their gen ed peers how truely amazing they are. These opportunities include being able to host a leadership assembly for the entire school, participate in afterschool clubs with gen ed peers and take on various leadership roles throughout our building- all of which Jim was right beside them cheering them on. Jim has “celebrity status” in my room- the minute he walks in the door I’m lucky if I can keep instruction going as the kids usually rush to the door to give him a hug or a high five- relationships are important to him and it shows. He treats my non-verbal students the same way he treats ourgen ed kids, and this is with respect and dignity. I think what makes Jim different then most is that to him inclusion is not simply tolerating the presence of our self-contained students- it is unquestioned acceptance. I am thankful everyday to work alongside someone who sees the beauty and ability in my students as much as I do.” – Mrs. Pisarek

“At my first staff meeting as a teacher, and Mr. Ryan’s first staff meeting as principal of Maplemere, Mr. Ryan showed a TED talk with a message from Rita Pierson, a message that “every child deserves a champion”. I think the biggest thing that makes Mr. Ryan an outstanding principal is that not only do our students at Maplemere have champions in their teachers and in our principal, but we as teachers have a champion in Mr. Ryan.

As a first year teacher last year, I was eager but nervous. Mr. Ryan was supportive of me, provided me with opportunities to grow, and pushed me to develop my own authentic way of being an educator and advocate for students. He is not only a mentor, but a leader who guides our school in a way where everyone is valued. Mr. Ryan recognizes and capitalizes on the talents of each person in our building – teachers, classroom aides, program aides, guest teachers, and students.” -Ms. Campanaro

About the Author


Robert Breyer is the “proud” principal of Cameron Elementary School in Cameron, NC. He also makes time to coach aspiring leaders who are looking to make the transition from teacher to administration. He is the host of The Guiding Principals Podcast, where he encourages visionary school leaders to share the stories of their own leadership journey and celebrates their successes along the way. Connect with Robert on his website at www.beyondthedeskleadership.com or via Twitter @rbleads

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