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.
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.
Ask for help
Nobody successful ever got there on his or her own. Before Mr. Shahe took on the role of Principal at Hovsepian, he recruited the help of his long-time colleague and friend, David Hagusian, who at the time was accrediting schools. David's expertise in school management was what Mr. Shahe knew was needed at Hovsepian at the time, and he wasn't afraid to ask for his help.
After one year as interim Principal, David was confident that he could hand the reigns to Principal Shahe to continue the progress he had started. As the new Principal, Mr. Shahe knew the job would be incredibly challenging, but he also knew that he could rely on the support and guidance of his colleagues to help him solve any problem that would come up.
In the years that followed, Principal Shahe relied on the knowledge and experience of those around him to help him learn and gain confidence in his new role.
Don't be afraid to fail
Extraordinary success is only ever reached by those who are not afraid to fail. This doesn't mean you aren't afraid; there may be moments of self-doubt or moments when you wonder if you made the right decision. Mr. Shahe's first year as Principal was difficult and filled with some doubt.
He was tasked with transforming the identity of the school, making it stand out and be unique. "Anything and everything that could go wrong, it happened!" he laughs, recalling all of the challenges he faced the first few years.
What's his advice for dealing with the unexpected? "Embrace the craziness," says Mr. Shahe. "We should be embracing more of the unknown." This is after all what we ask of students, isn't it? We encourage them to be curious, be creative, and think outside of the box.
"Everything can't be perfectly calculated, we need to try new things, and failing is a part of growth," adds Principal Shahe. His passion drives him forward despite the fear of the unknown, and his confidence allows him to learn valuable lessons from his mistakes. His goal is that every individual at Hovsepian - from the staff to the teachers and down to the students - embraces this approach to education.
Imagine a better future
"This generation of kids are no longer
immigrants of technology."
Mr. Shahe explains his vision for the future of The Hovsepian School, "This generation of kids are no longer immigrants of technology. They face a job market that doesn't yet exist." He stresses the fact that as a school, Hovsepian must keep up with the new research, technology, and teaching methods that will equip their students with the skills to be pioneers in our ever-evolving world.
“It is so easy to look over the fence and see what other people are doing," he comments. But Principal Shahe wants more for Hovsepian school. He wants to challenge his students in new and creative ways. He wants teachers who are charismatic and make learning exciting. Most of all, he wants his students to gain a sense of accomplishment and confidence so that they too can unlock the secrets to their own extraordinary success.
St. Gregory Alfred & Marguerite Hovsepian School is a non-profit, private school in Pasadena, CA providing pre-school, elementary and middle school programs to students of all faiths and backgrounds. Learn more about A&M Hovsepian on their school website.