The Second Principal, Clif: Passing the Potter's Torch

The faculty remember Clif St. Germain as a twenty-seven year old guidance counselor who became assistant principal at Dibert, to become principal a bit later. Clif said of his mentor, Lucianne, "She was the spirit of the school and the embodiment of tenacity and focus on beauty." If she was the spirit, he was the heart, suggested the long-time Dibert teachers. His goal was to develop a happy place where children could learn, and where Be Kind and Share was the guiding principle in how everyone (administrators, teachers, students, support staff, parents) would interact personally and professionally with each other.

The faculty, as noted, had the option to stay at Dibert, now a magnet school, and sign on as part of the new school and its development, or to go elsewhere. As Clif reported, some people decided they didn't want to go, but they didn't want to stay either. Other issues that faced Clif and the faculty in the first year were too many kids in the classrooms, not enough books, no release time for faculty planning, too much rough kids' play, not enough consistency in discipline, and many others.

One of his strategies was to meet with the entire faculty at Faculty Study on Thursday afternoons and work on the problems they were having to deal with. His thinking was that if he could help resolve some of the problems, then they would be more willing to share a new mind-set, to come with him to a new vision of schooling, to create a happy place where children learn. He believed that the first two or three years of energy would need to be used to build a vision that could be articulated in terms of culture, curriculum, and kids.

One of the symbols of the new Dibert was the rainbow that represented the multicultural dimension of the school's mission: to honor children of diverse backgrounds and cultures, and to value the contributions that diversity can bring. To make this idea quite clear, St. Germain and the faculty painted a rainbow on the front of the school. In addition, they posted a banner on which a large goose invited passing motorists on the school's busy boulevard to honk if they loved Dibert. For years, students reckoned that much of the traveling world loved Dibert. Other symbolic acts were cleaning up the dingy, unattractive school facility and putting flowers, music, poetry and song "into the walls."

Because Dibert was competing for students with private schools in the area, St. Germain went out into the community to talk with families and to tell them about the programs at Dibert and solicit their attendance. At the same time, he and the faculty were creating the programs and developing relationships to productively work with each other. Because the faculty was young and many staff had small children, they frequently would gather at someone's home with children for informal meals. Occasionally on Friday afternoons, Clif would suggest that they all get together and stop after school at one of the local restaurants for an end-of-the-week celebration. After-school volleyball games were also organized by Clif on an impromptu basis, where the staff could knock the ball around and play together, release tension, and go back to work the next day more relaxed.

One of his pieces of advice to others who wish to re-invent and found a school on new assumptions - on a new paradigm - is to trust that teachers know best about teaching and "when they bellow at you, know that they are coming from wanting to have a good school." Understand also, he cautioned, that time will always be problematic in any process and accept that. But, first of all, an administrator should know his or her administrative strengths, find out what gives the person energy, and never let that go. So that when things get rough or harried, "you go into that energy space to rejuvenate yourself. The principalship is a lonely place, so if you know yourself and who you are in terms of the school," you can stay whole and not "crash into the rocks."

Continuing into years four and five, the faculty and Clif met together weekly about how to operate the school and how to work with kids, so that "our being here is going to amount to something in the lives of these kids, and they are going to amount to something in our lives because they are going to teach us something." Believing that he had accomplished his purpose at Dibert, Clif felt it was time to leave, but not before he made sure that the new principal would take the school in a strong direction. Thus, he had coffee with Nancy to ask her, can you do this? She looked him straight in the eye and replied, "Can I do it? Like who do you think you are. I am going to do it better than you ever did."

Next Page: The Third Principal: Now It's Nancy

Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 4, Number 1, Schools as Learning Communities (1994)