DARIEN — Many teachers may cringe at the thought of a student who loves arguing. Shelley Sommers, the new principal at Middlesex Middle School, welcomes it. It allows her to teach the student how to hone their skill of arguing into a career. One particularly opinionated student ended up pursuing the study of law.

With over two decades of education work under her belt, including 15 years working in South Carolina, it’s no wonder Sommers knows how to shape students into their best selves. Coming in from Greenwich’s Central Middle School, Sommers said she’s genuinely excited to get to know her new community, in between reading books, seeing her four daughters or hiking with her poodle, Moose.

Q: Why did you decide to come to Darien?

A: I was looking for a school that really embraced the grade-level team structure, staffed it appropriately and provided the opportunities for students that that team structure offers. When I started researching Darien, that’s what appealed to me the most.

Q. How many teams do you guys have and how do they work?

A: We have 12 teams, four at each grade level. So, for example, the purple teachers have the purple kids. They get to meet once every day to talk about those students, to examine the data about those students and to plan opportunities for those students to advance learning. That to me is the most important thing for a middle school student. I think they also take into consideration not just the academic, but the social-emotional growth. In middle school, it’s really important to look at a student as a whole person, the whole child, because relationships between teacher-student, student-student are key to middle school.

Q. Why do you like working with middle school students?

A: I think they haven’t yet discovered their passion, and with the right instruction and the right leadership, they can discover what they love, what they want to pursue. They can discover a dream and someone can facilitate that dream for them.

Q. Are there any incidents of this that stand out?

A: I think it happens over and over. Before I moved back to Connecticut, I was an educator in South Carolina and that’s where I did my assistant principal stints. I was at the high school level and a lot of those habits of mind have already been developed in students. I was a middle school teacher prior to that, and I realize there’s still plenty of room to reach out, plenty of time to reach out to middle school students. I can give you an example from my Greenwich experience. There was a student that was very opinionated, and I like that. I like a challenging student. I knew that this young man would go far and he would end up in some kind of political something. So, he argued his way through eighth grade with me. He would question policies, he would question procedure, he would question curriculum. You name it, he was questioning it. He went on to the high school to be the president of the student body and was then going on to study law in his college years. By just being able to encourage his curiosity and his desire to argue about everything, but to shape it, I think he really just discovered a path for himself.

Q. What’s different between schools in South Carolina and schools in Connecticut?

A: It’s interesting, even just coming from down the road in Greenwich, there are so many differences between systems. I’d have to say that the goals of every district are the same and that’s to really be student-focused and to improve teaching and learning. And kids are the same, no matter if it’s down in South Carolina or in Connecticut. I think the biggest differences were minor things, managerial things like scheduling. It was a different kind of school year. For part of my experience there, I worked year-round schools, which was a very interesting change for me. You’d teach nine weeks on, three weeks off and you’d go year-round.

Q. What’s something you’ve noticed that’s the same in all of the middle school students that you’ve worked with?

A:All of the middle school students have wonderful personalities. They all have a great sense of humor. They all still have a sense of play about them and they all have a little bit of a sense of vulnerability.

Q. What are you looking forward to working on at Middlesex?

A: I’m really looking forward to getting into the classrooms. I think that my strength is as an instructional leader and to working with teachers, to plan strategies to advance learning. Curriculum’s the same town-to-town pretty much, but I’m really excited to work with teachers on developing new instruction. I’m also looking forward to the technology rollout that’s planned for later this year. The sixth and seventh grade will all receive Chromebooks, so I’m really looking forward to coming up with the professional developments with teachers for that rollout.

Q. Do you have anything in mind for how you’ll base the curriculum around these new Chromebooks?

A: A computer’s just a tool. It doesn’t replace good teaching. So our professional development will focus on how teachers can maximize that tool in advancing learning. I did a complete rollout in Greenwich, so I kind of know how it goes. Pre-rollout, our teachers are working to develop a Google site, and then we’ll take a look at the apps we have available and the toolbox that will be available to them.

Q. What do you do when you’re not working?

A: I have a standard poodle named Moose and I spend a good deal of time hiking with him. In the fall especially, we like to go on longer hikes. I have four daughters, so I spend a bit of time with them. Two live in Boston and two live in Brooklyn, so we like to get together. We like to go to the beach and I like to read. My second daughter is an aspiring author, a fiction writer, so we have our own mini-book club. We read lots of new fiction and also explore some of the classics together.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata