New Beginnings

Former Waltrip principal Michael Niggli begins his new role at Bellaire

Walking down the crowded hall of Main Street, towering over students who excitedly rush into Cardinal Hour, he takes in the vibrant scene that he’s become familiar with in the past few weeks.

One student walks up to him asking about his basketball career. Others tell him how excited they are to have a principal again.

Standing at the school entrance from the parking lot during lunchtime, he greets students and teachers as they would come up to introduce themselves. To him, this is a very important step to get to know the school.

Michael Niggli, Bellaire’s new principal, officially introduced himself to the Bellaire community on Oct. 28 during a meet and greet. Since then, he has spent his time familiarizing himself with the school’s structure and its students.

“In the short time that I’ve been here, the student body has been fantastic,” Niggli said. “I’ve had a lot of students come up and introduce themselves. It’s been a pleasure meeting them.”

Although Niggli joined Bellaire well into the fall semester on Nov. 7, his enthusiasm for his new position shined through first impressions.

“It’s great to have a new leader who’s excited about Bellaire, learning about it and helping us set a vision,” Dean of Instruction Debra Campbell said. “I think new beginnings are exciting and that’s kind of where we are; a place to begin, grow and start again.”

While Niggli is eager to learn more about Bellaire, he acknowledges the legacy Michael McDonough, the school’s former principal, left behind.

“It’s a different experience to come in behind someone who’s been in the school for such a long time,” Niggli said. “That is something that I’m very sensitive to. I understand that there’s a faculty and staff who worked for the previous principal for a long time. It’s something to keep a pulse on and be aware of in my conversations.”

Though Niggli has big shoes to fill, Campbell said that he’s a qualified principal.

“I want Bellaire to know that he’s a professional,” Campbell said. “To be principal of Bellaire High School is a big deal and that’s an exciting role for somebody to be chosen for. I think he has every hope and desire. Bellaire’s only had eight principals, so I think that it’ll be great to see where he leads us.”

Whether it’s roaming around during passing periods or Cardinal Hour, or engaging in conversations with students, Niggli has started to involve himself in the student body.

“He’s been here for about a week, and he’s very present,” Campbell said. “He’s watching and listening and learning. Bellaire is bigger than some colleges so even just physically trying to figure out everything takes some time. He has a lot of questions because we’re complex, and he’s very interested in all the different programs and learning about the community.”

Besides wanting to explore the programs that Bellaire has, Niggli said the community was also why he chose to move to Bellaire High School.

“I’ve known the Bellaire community from afar for a long time because I have worked in the district for 25 years, so it’s the kind of environment that I’m comfortable in,” Niggli said. “They’re a very engaged community and I really found it very heartwarming that they were welcoming my presence here at Bellaire.”

Amidst the topics that need to be addressed, school safety has occupied most of Niggli’s attention.

“One of the biggest challenges is the building itself and making sure that it gets finished, that walls are done, ceilings are completed, and there’s good WiFi [around] school,” Niggli said. “We [also] wanted to make sure that we have a school safety plan in place and a safe environment for all of our students and our staff [which is] very important to me.”

Niggli also wants to keep the newly constructed building spotless.

“It’s just a matter of seeing how all the systems work here,” Niggli said. “I know that people want to have a clean campus. Maybe a trash and ditch initiative needs to go into place where everybody works together to keep trash off of the floors. We have a brand new school, and we want to keep it as nice as we possibly can.”

Niggli also emphasized his support for Bellaire’s AP, IB, dual credit and CTE programs.

“Bellaire has some really fantastic programs here, and there’s some that I’m still learning about,” Niggli said. “I really want to have the opportunity to be exposed to those as well and have a chance to work with them, and help to support and grow them.”

English I teacher Kelli Tomlinson said the school is in a transition period right now as Niggli familiarizes himself with the staff and students. Though it’s a challenge with Niggli coming in as a new principal in the middle of the year, Tomlinson said everybody is adjusting and getting to know one another.

“I would say that many of us are trying to approach everything with an open mind,” Tomlinson said. “This staff is just an absolutely incredible, unique and special group of people. We work hard and we take care of one another. We are looking for someone to help us rebuild our trust, and we are looking to Mr. Niggli to lead that process.

In the few weeks that Niggli has been here, he has already started building this relationship and trust, especially with students. Junior and computer-aided design (CAD) manager of Robotics Club Jermy Scarpetta is one of those students.

“I can tell that he really cares about the students of the school,” Scarpetta said. “We’ve been trying to fight for a room for the past two years and we’ve been cast aside over and over again, [but] he was very understanding when we requested a room for a robotics club so this made us feel like we actually had a say and were actually doing something important at our school.”

From what Niggli has seen, a lot of clubs and organizations at Bellaire have a social media presence and are able to express themselves on these platforms. This is also an opportunity Niggli hopes to make available at school.

“I want students to always feel comfortable going to a trusted adult as well if they have something that they need to share, or say,” Niggli said. “I’ve had some come up to me already, and it’s been very well received. Student leadership, class officers, student council and other groups like that should have opportunities to speak.”

With the school still adjusting to the new situation, Campbell said it’s fortunate to have somebody like Niggli that is here, ready to roll their sleeves up and help with that adjustment.

“We all want the same thing. We all want Bellaire to continue to grow and all the different programs to flourish,” Campbell said. “I think that we’re lucky that we’ve got somebody who’s walked in here and who is ready to help a comprehensive school stay comprehensive and [allow] the kids, the families and the community to have faith and be proud to go to school here. That’s what we’re all working towards.”

Tomlinson recalled her time under McDonough’s tenure. Tomlinson had shared a running bond with the former Bellaire principal and saw McDonough more than just her principal.

“We were more than employees to him, and students were more than test scores,” Tomlinson said. “He was a principal of people, and so many of us truly felt seen by him. He knew our soccer players by name and enjoyed analyzing the game afterward.”