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The Heart Of A School


Photo taken by Mayur Gala

Today is my last official work day of the 2014-2015 school year. Heading into my first year at Sandy Hill Elementary I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Yes, I went to school here and yes I have lived most of my life within walking distance of the building. But this was different. I was going to be the assistant principal of a building with over five hundred children and almost seventy staff members. And I was nervous.

I would like to tell the story of my first year at Sandy Hill but I am not quite sure where to begin. I have written numerous posts about singular events, but to write one that encompasses the entire year. That will be a challenge. But I will try. And I hope that by the end of this piece you realize what an amazing place Sandy Hill is.

This story must be told backwards and therefore I will begin at the end.

Each year the staff celebrates the last day of school by going out to dinner. It is a time to relax and have some light-hearted fun. Some staff members usually get roasted and others get teased. That took place once again this year. But the most powerful part of the evening came when each person got to share something they learned this year. It was an opportunity for some folks to share what mattered most to them.

And it was one person in particular that shared something that really captured what Sandy Hill is all about. This person had just lost their grandmother. Someone with whom she was very close. She had been ill for some time, but it was during the last week of school that things took a turn for the worse. She made the decision to be with her grandmother during the last few days of her life. Missing work is never easy, but missing the last few days of a school year can be nerve-wracking. So much to do and lots to worry about.

But as she shared during our end of the year dinner you could tell that she wasn’t worried at all about missing the last few days of school. She wasn’t worried because she knew that everyone at Sandy Hill would take care of things for her.

“You can’t imagine what an incredible feeling that is. Knowing that I didn’t have to worry about school so that I could be with my grandmother. It meant more than you could ever imagine”

It was at that moment that it really hit me just how special a place Sandy Hill is. Our principal closed the portion of this evening with a very heartfelt and passionate sharing. She reiterated the fact that while we all spend most of our days at school, we must never lose sight of the things that matter most to us in our lives. Loved ones and family members must always come first. And at Sandy Hill Elementary they always do.

There are countless other stories I could share that would give you just a glimpse into the heart of Sandy Hill Elementary. I could tell you about the preK teacher who willingly changed grades in the middle of the year to help alleviate overcrowding. Or I could tell you about the flood that severely damaged six classrooms. And how the next day, a Saturday, staff came out to school to help their colleagues recover what was left of their materials.

Maybe I could write about the instructional assistant who volunteered to devote the last month of school to helping several our students with severe social and emotional needs find success. All by herself! I could tell you about the teacher who often taught two classes at a time when substitutes could not be found. Or I could let you know how this same person would stop at the drop of a dime whenever I needed her help. And I needed it often. Then there was the time that I caught the flu right in the middle of PARCC testing. Like, my colleague, I didn’t have to worry because I knew that everything would be taken care of. And it was. Better than if I had actually been there myself.

And I have already blogged about just what kind of heart our students have. From the six-year-old boy who walked to school all by himself just because he wanted to be there. To the girl who wanted to make a present for her classmate who had just hit her because she thought maybe that is what he needed. More love. Then there was the boy who instantly forgave his classmate for punching him because he could not stand to see him so sad and guilt ridden. I can still picture him putting his arm around the boy and walking him back to class telling everthing was going to be okay.

But the one story that stands out the most has to do with a student that was at Sandy Hill for just a few months. He had transferred in during the last term and was able to make friends right away. One in particular he bonded with immediately because they shared a sad, yet similar life experience. They both had the misfortune of having mothers who had either passed away or were very very sick. This is a private matter that I would not normally share publicly.

But it was he, who had the courage to share this. In an essay that he shared with the entire gymnasium the day of fifth grade graduation. What mattered most to him was that he had found a friend that he could confide in. A friend who unfortunately knew exactly what he was going through.

As you can imagine the story this brave young man shared that day touched us all very deeply. But it epitomizes what is so special about Sandy Hill. It has a heart bigger than life. And once you enter the building and stay for a while you can’t help but feel it. The young man mentioned above was only here but a brief time, and just look at how Sandy Hill touched his heart.

Each and every one of us at Sandy Hill experienced some sort of struggle this year that pushed us in ways we could not have predicted. But each and every time this happened, we all joined together and became stronger. For if someone’s heart was damaged or broken, another would take a piece of theirs’ and lend it. And yet our hearts grew larger. It was amazing!


It was an honor and a privilege to serve the students, staff and community of Sandy Hill this past year. I have learned and grown so much from the amazing people that I work with each and every day. This year I have shared stories about moments at Sandy Hill that touched my heart. And they gave you glimpses. But today. My final day of the school year. I felt it was the right time for you to read about what makes The Heart Of A School.

2 comments on “The Heart Of A School

  1. Renee Lemire says:

    Thanks Jon. Everyday I have received a gift that makes it a little easier to get through the day. Today it was this. 😄

  2. You are truly blessed to work in such a special school, and I know that you add to the beautiful spirit that it sounds like your school has. You have some wonderful memories from the year, and I feel lucky to have been able to read your stories. Thank you for the uplifting post!

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