Good principals

If 15 years ago husband and wife Timothy “Timmy” Allen ’00 and Nikcole “Della” Allen ’01 had been told that they both would end up as middle school principals, they wouldn’t have believed it.

“We were both interested in working with kids, but neither of us was sure enough of our path to actually do student teaching at Wheaton,” Timmy said. “So while we both thought we’d end up in education, the fact that we have the exact same job definitely was not the plan.”

The couple first met at Wheaton when Timmy was a sophomore and Della was a freshman. A friendship between the two took off when Della switched her dorm room, ending up adjacent to Timmy’s room in Meadows North.

The students had plenty in common. Both were student-athletes—Timmy as a player and eventual captain of the men’s basketball team and Della as a player on the women’s soccer team. Also, they both majored in psychology and enjoyed working with children.

Now, many years later, Timmy and Della are married, and they are the parents of two young children. They both enjoy successful careers in education administration as principals at two middle schools, one in Longmeadow and the other in East Longmeadow—both suburbs of Springfield in western Massachusetts.

The couple took different routes to get there. Timmy, who always loved the side of psychology that focuses on understanding children, earned his master’s degree in developmental psychology from Columbia University. “I quickly realized that I wanted to be more on the practitioner side than the researcher side, so education became a natural fit,” he said.

As principal at Birchland Park Middle School, he works to ensure that students are learning in a physically and emotionally safe environment so teachers can deliver high-level instruction and students are learning at all times, he said.

“I love working with the middle school population because it is such a challenging time of life,” he said. “I worked in urban education for over 10 years and I am in my third year of suburban education. Although there are huge differences, in both environments the young adolescents really need adults who can help them navigate the many challenges of this time period.”

Nikcole Gatta Allen
Della Allen ’01

Della, on the other hand, began her career as a special education teacher at an urban alternative high school for six years before going back to school to receive her master’s degree in school leadership.

During graduate school, she moved to an urban high school to teach for another two years while completing her practicum work. From there, she started as an assistant principal before taking on the role of principal at Glenbrook Middle School.

“What I like most about working with middle school students is how fun they are. We can be upset with them and then laughing with them in a matter of minutes. Middle school is where students really start to mold themselves, physically, socially and academically. Every day is a roller coaster and that makes work fun,” Della said.

Timmy and Della both say they benefited from their liberal arts education at Wheaton—and named a number of professors who helped shape their professional and personal development.

Timmy said psychology professor Paul Sprosty, Professor Emeritus of Psychology Derek Price and Assistant Professor of Psychology Terry McCandies all pushed him in his thinking and learning, enabling him to develop important leadership skills. “I loved the process of learning at Wheaton and I will always value greatly my experience there,” he said.

For Della, women’s soccer coach Luis Reis taught her the importance of making every day count and holding oneself to a high expectation, she said. Also, “[former] Assistant Professor of Psychology Terry McCandies really pushed me to expand my thinking, to believe in myself, and to always challenge myself to do my best,” she said.

Della and Timmy share a professional title, but still find time to learn from each other’s unique strengths.

“So while I have always asked him a lot about the job and about the leadership component, he has always leaned on me for support in the suburban environment, as well as with special education programs and law,” Della said. “We definitely have a good balance and are able to help each other a lot.”