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Principal Shahe's Secret to Extraordinary Success


Principal Shahe in his office at St. Gregory Alfred & Marguerite Hovsepian School.

Principal Shahe hadn't read the questions I had emailed him the day before our interview. "I understand, you're busy, not a lot of time to read emails," I say as I pull them up on my screen.

"No, no. I didn't want to," he replies as he takes his seat on his bold red chair.

"Even Better!" I replace the questions with a blank word document on my laptop.

Principal Shahe's office is bright and sunny with colorful art on the walls. As we settle in, my attention focuses on the pink post-it note taped to his chair. On it is a drawing of a little girl in a red dress.

My curiosity is piqued. I get the feeling that that little sticky note somehow holds all the answers to all of the questions I want to ask Mr. Shahe today.

"Let's start with that sticky note," I request. My index fingers find the familiar ridges on the F and J keys, and so we start.

Get inspired

Principal Shahe points out a few other drawings and notes spread throughout his office. They all seem to be from the same young artist. "Your student?" I ask.

"My daughter," he answers. The drawings are a reminder from his daughter who is a student at the Hovsepian School. She wants to make sure her dad remembers whose office this really is!

"I never want for her to feel like

this is 'the principal's office'."

In fact, it's not just his daughter who has free reign of the place. Principal Shahe wants all of the students at Hovsepian to know that this is their office.

"This note reminds me that I'm still a father, I don't know, I never want her to feel like this is the principal's office. She, just like any other student, needs to feel that she's free to walk in." As I listen, I try to remember if any of my school principals were this nice.

I can only vaguely remember what my elementary school principal looked like. She had really big hair, wore wide shoulder pads and always had on a pair of oversized pearl earrings. That's not much to show for a combined 13 years at four schools.

"Their request is so much more important than what an adult may need," Mr. Shahe continues, "I almost feel like their needs are more urgent." That makes a lot of sense. After all, the whole purpose of the school is to serve the children.

It's easy to see that, for Mr. Shahe, being a principal is not just about managing budgets and staff. It's about serving his community and developing the minds and hearts of the next generation.

Walk away from your comfort zone

"How did you end up in this chair?" I move forward with a pretty standard question. Mr. Shahe's reply is anything but the standard answer.

"I wasn't planning on being a teacher," he smiles. "At the time, I wanted to backpack through Europe and write a novel." This sounded like a typical goal for a young adult just about to earn his bachelor's degree in English.

"I always walk into open doors."

Right around that time, Mr. Shahe received a call from the Sahag-Mesrob Armenian Christian School which offered him a teaching position in a fourth-grade class. "I had no formal training as a teacher, and yet was very confident that I could do this. I always walk into open doors." Since he could still travel during the summers, Mr. Shahe decided to step outside of his comfort zone and into the classroom for one year.

As it turned out, teaching was Mr. Shahe's true calling. Ten years later, he would take a bigger leap into the unknown and begin his journey as the Principal of a school going through an incredibly difficult transition.

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