From the field to the office

DeMarrais to step in as Pascack Valley principal after 19 years at Pascack Hills


Contributed by Glenn deMarrais

Glenn deMarrais posing with his son, who played junior football for River Dell. DeMarrais coached high school sports for almost 20 years before coaching his sons in Junior Football and Little League Baseball.

Spencer Goldstein, Editor in Chief

In order to become a high school principal, Glenn deMarrais had to earn his master’s degree in educational administration. He attended New Jersey City University, taking the majority of his courses at night and in the summer due to his teaching obligations at Southern Regional High School.

However, it was his coaching – not his coursework – that best prepared deMarrais for the 19 years he would spend at the administrative level.

“Being in a leadership role and being in high pressure situations where you have to make decisions that are going to affect a lot of people [are things that] coaching was the best training ground for,” deMarrais said. “Pressure means there are people who are banking on you to make the right decisions and that happens almost daily in a principal job.”

DeMarrais spent nearly two decades coaching football and baseball before transitioning to an administrative position, entertaining brief stints with wrestling and freshman basketball as well. He started coaching baseball at Emerson High School – his alma mater – and started coaching football at Pope Pius High School in Passaic, which has since closed its doors permanently.

Glenn deMarrais standing with three of his baseball players at Pinelands High School in 1990. He coached the Wildcats for nine years, from 1989 to 1998. (Contributed by Glenn deMarrais)

Inside the classroom, deMarrais started off as a teacher in “shop classes,” such as wood shop and mechanical drawing. However, the rise of the technological era led him to “change with the times” and become a computer aided design (CAD) teacher at Southern Regional High School in 1998.

While deMarrais finds coaching and teaching to be similar, he felt a special connection to the students that he coached.

“Coaching is teaching – there is a lot of teaching that goes on in coaching,” deMarrais said. “I think what I liked most about coaching was that you were really dealing with kids who wanted to be there and had a passion for that sport, and I found that to be very appealing. I really enjoyed working with kids not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom because you get to know them on a whole different level.”

So even when a family situation led deMarrais to leave his teaching and coaching positions at Southern Regional in 2000 in favor of Pascack Hills’ assistant principal position, he knew that he could not give up coaching altogether.

“[The decision to leave Southern Regional and take the assistant principal job at Hills] wasn’t tough because my family is really important to me,” deMarrais said. “I knew I would miss the teaching and coaching, but when I got [to Hills], it provided the opportunity for me to coach my own sons in Little League baseball and junior football. And I probably would not have been able to do [that] if I continued to coach at the high school level.”

DeMarrais patting his son on the helmet after getting on base. Even after taking up an administrative role, deMarrais continued his coaching career with his sons’ youth sports teams. (Contributed by Glenn deMarrais)

DeMarrais’ wife, Sharon, was born and raised in Bergen County, so the opportunity for her to return to the area she grew up in also contributed to deMarrais’ willingness to transition to Hills. And even though his shift to the administrative level meant that he would no longer be working with students in the same way he was when he was a teacher, deMarrais once again found a way to apply his coaching skills to the school environment. 

“I have a coaching mindset and I really enjoyed working with young and developing teachers and helping them find their way, specifically in areas like technology in the classroom, since I have experience with technology,” deMarrais said. “I enjoyed working with teachers just like working with athletes: helping them develop to become the best that they can be.”

When it comes to the student body, deMarrais considers himself a “climate and culture principal,”noting that his main goal is to “make the school a place [that] kids want to be.” 

A freshman during deMarrais’ final year at Hills, current sophomore Briana Keenan was struck by deMarrais’ unorthodox leadership style.

“I know a lot of principals tend to be stuck in their offices doing a lot of paperwork, but one of deMarrais’ goals was to be very seen by the students and staff at Hills,” Keenan said. “He was always standing in the hallways, always greeting everyone – every morning he would stand on the curb outside where students were dropped off.”

Despite only being at Hills for one year of deMarrais’ principal tenure, it did not take long for Keenan and the rest of the 2019-20 freshman class to be impacted by deMarrais on a personal level. 

“[DeMarrais] put all he had into making sure that we were welcomed and he really stood out to me because he remembered a lot of our names,” Keenan said. “I know sometimes it can be hard – there are a lot of students at the school – so I thought it was really special that he remembered our names.”

In January 2020, following 19 years at Hills – including eight as principal – deMarrais announced his retirement, effective at the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year. After 36 years in education, he planned to spend a large portion of his time hiking with his dog, Riggs, at Harriman State Park.

“[Hiking] gets me away from the pressures of everyday life,” deMarrais said. “I do enjoy nature and I have this relationship with my dog where we’re just both out there doing our thing. He’s a great off-leash dog [who] loves being out in the water and it’s just something that I find to be very peaceful.”

However, once he was approached by district Superintendent Erik Gundersen regarding Pascack Valley’s vacant principal position, deMarrais decided to put his retirement on hold for a year.

“My first reaction [after being offered the job as Valley’s principal] was ‘no, no thank you,’” deMarrais said. “But the more I thought about it and discussed it with my family, it kept coming back to the fact that this district has been really good to me over the years. I thought the right thing for me to do was to help them out of a jam [because] given the pandemic, they did not want to go back out and try to do a [principal] search under those circumstances.”

Along with his desire to help out the district in a time of need, the other factor in deMarrais’ decision to accept the job at Valley came from a mindset that had been ingrained in him at a young age.

“I’ve never been one to pass up a challenge. That is a mindset that has been instilled in me since I was a kid – not only from my dad, but from my older brothers who were all very competitive and athletic,” deMarrais said. “You have two choices: you can look at things as problems or as opportunities, [and] I’m looking at [being Valley’s principal] as a great opportunity to take on a real challenge in circumstances that never existed before [with regards to the pandemic].”

DeMarrais fully intends to carry over his leadership tactics from Hills to Valley, stating his intent to become “the most visible principal that [each student] has ever known.”

“I believe that the foundation of education is relationships,” deMarrais said. “And there is no way to forge relationships with students and staff from behind a desk.”