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Stembridge (2009-Present)

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

From Stembridge’s “This I Believe” essay presented on September 24, 2010:

I believe that South is a wonderful school. I also believe that we have some important work to do before our students will proudly proclaim “My school loves me!”
During my first year as Principal at South, I did a lot of listening to you – students, faculty, and parents – as you talked about South. I learned that you love many, many things about South: you love the incredible people here; you love the amazing opportunities; you love the excellent programs – from athletics to academics to music to art to theater to clubs to newspapers to traveling abroad; and, you love the respect for differences that we passionately maintain within our school.
Make no mistake, this is a wonderful school. No other school that I know supports a Sophomore Speech competition in which every student competes, the Spelling Bee where participants are loudly supported, “Passin’ Time” where the entire school strolls through the halls during a long advisory, Tertulia where students and teachers co-create an all-day talent show, – and today’s all-school event.
But, as I listened to you last year, I did not hear many of you say “I love South.” Although you seem proud to be students here, most of you describe South as full of stress that must be endured in order to get into a good college. And when I push you to explain, you say you don’t want South to lower its standards. You don’t want us to offer you a copper education and pretend that it’s gold.
Rather, the main issue seems to be how it feels to be a student at South. You want a South that understands the challenges you face as a student, and a South that actively supports you as you meet those challenges.
Well, the truth is that South is us! We create it anew each year. In too many of my conversations with you, South is described as an inanimate object – a thing that merely is. To be clear: the walls, halls, and classrooms do not give South its character. We the people make South what it is – and can be. We create – and can recreate – Newton South.
What an institution has been in the past, while informative, does not dictate what it will be in the future. Moreover, a group of people who are focused on a common goal can make a great difference. I’ve seen this happen with teams, theater productions, classes, and clubs.
South is a very good high school, but it can be better. I believe that if we, together, choose to act in a way that embodies the South that we want, we can transform our school. I have a couple of suggestions for each of you: students – first, go to a game, play, or concert and cheer for each other; second, say “thank you” to an adult; teachers – first, make it clear each day how your goal is to do all that you can to help your students succeed; second, maybe allow for an extension when a student comes to you with a difficult week; parents – first, give the wonderful adults working here the benefit of the doubt, and second, assume that we care deeply about your children; For me: first, I will get into halls and classrooms more, and second, I will continue to listen. If every person here commits to acting in one of these ways three times each day (that’s 6,000 individual acts each day; 1,080,000 acts for the year), we could powerfully transform South into a school that we could confidently say — we love.

So…THIS I BELIEVE: It is our responsibility – yours and mine and no one else’s – to transform South into a school where we can honestly proclaim… WE LOVE OUR SCHOOL. Thank you, Newton South, for the privilege of being your principal.

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