MY OFFICIAL START DATE WAS JULY 1st, BUT I’M PRETTY SURE I was in that building the very first chance I could get. I was a hot mess, really – filled with anticipation, excitement, dread and fear – but mostly I was just humbled and feeling very blessed to have gotten this opportunity to serve as principal. I had a lot to learn, and I knew that; in fact, I had been saying it since the very beginning and as I mentioned, I even said it to the interview team at that first meeting together: “I don’t know much about elementary school, but what I do know is that I have an extreme passion for seeing people exceed expectations, and an unmatched love for wanting what’s best for my kids.”
This must have struck a chord with the people in that interview room, because somewhere around the middle of July, as I’m sitting in my new office and trying not to panic because the first week is coming soon and there’s nothing I can do to slow things down, my phone rings. I think it may be the first time it had rung and I hadn’t prepared for how I would answer it. What was my greeting? I was the principal now… I had to have an official greeting, didn’t I? I picked it up and said, “Hello?”
On the other end was a vaguely familiar-sounding voice. It turned out to be the Mayor, asking me if I was settling in and wanting to know if I could meet her for lunch one day this week.
With the Mayor?
Who was I?
I don’t have lunch with Mayors!
I don’t even know what I’m doing!
This whole thing could turn into a major disaster!
“Yes, Mayor. Of course I can have lunch with you. What day works for you?”
I met her at a local restaurant, the name of which escapes me at this time. I couldn’t wait to talk to her, to see what she had to say, to get insight about the community, and to hear from her about the role she played as part of the interview community for elementary principal. It was to be a one hour lunch, as she had many other appointments that day, and I expressed to her how thankful I was to have a chance to sit down with her.
“Jeff,” she started out, “I want you to understand the gravity of this position, the need for a leader like you in this community and in this particular school.”
“Thank you, Mayor. I don’t quite understand why I was chosen, especially after I made it clear to the team that I was definitely not the most qualified. I’m thrilled, don’t get me wrong, but why me?”
“Please, Jeff, call me Ila. You were selected strictly based on the fact that you were the most genuine, real, caring and passionate person we interviewed out of the candidates we called in. Over 50 people applied.”
I was stunned, to say the least. I don’t remember any of the conversation beyond that point. I don’t remember what I had for lunch, and I think I even got lost on the way back to the school. The one thing I do remember, though, was the almost pleading look in her eyes, the very definite waver in her voice when she described her passion for the school, for the community, for the people and for the children of W.J. Murphy Elementary School. She told me that they needed me. She told me that they needed me in an almost desperate way.
They needed me.
This was really a first lesson in understanding the power of expectation; even more than that, however, the raw desire that people have to want to feel valued, to feel loved, to know that they are a part of something larger than themselves. I didn’t know how I would bring this experience to them, but I felt the weight of it bearing down upon me like never before. In fact, the only other time I have felt anything like it was when I became a parent. Holding your child in your arms for the first time, a sensation comes over you – it is a need to protect, a need to succeed, to not let her down, to not disappoint. And the pain of knowing that you will, at times, regardless of how hard you try.
I hadn’t even spent a day in front of kids or teachers, and already I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.