Such a belief then begs the question, “Why do principals choose to become principals?” After all, their responsibilities are much broader, their accountabilities are far reaching and they must answer to multiple interest groups — parents, teachers, school system supervisors and the system director or superintendent.
And of course, we haven’t even mentioned the public.
Truly, the principal’s role is one filled with intense pressure, long hours, wheelbarrows full of paperwork and day-to-day demands from all corners of education.
So again we ask. Why does a principal desire to be a principal?
We believe it is for the same reason that teachers teach. They strive to make a difference in the lives of others, and in spite of leaving the classroom they have not lost their fondness for the students. And in so many cases, the feeling is reciprocated.
We offer our point by looking to North Lee Elementary School, a respected facility in the Bradley County School System which temporarily lost its principal last spring from injuries sustained in an accident at home.
Nat Akiona was trimming a tree during spring break when he lost his balance and plunged 21 feet to an unforgiving ground. His serious injuries included a fractured wrist, crushed vertebrae and broken sternum. He was transported to SkyRidge Medical Center and later to Erlanger Medical Center. Following immediate, and intensive, treatment at the hospitals he received physical therapy at Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation and at the Cleveland Family YMCA.
His injuries were severe and his recovery has been gradual. He tried to return to school before the end of last school season, but to no avail. The pain was too excruciating and it was endangering his slow rebound.
He did return to the school for brief visits and even worked part time in May before returning to his full workload in June with the understanding that he practice moderation in lifting and other physical requirements of his job.
Yet before the start of summer vacation, and during his occasional visits to the schoolhouse, his finest medicine was administered by the tiniest of doctors. It came compliments of those he had grown to love, those he had nurtured and those he had protected as his own ... his North Lee students.
Area residents who read our newspaper’s front-page account last week of the principal’s harrowing accident, and his subsequent recovery, surely were moved by the role played in the educator’s recovery by those smallest in stature yet biggest in heart.
During his first visit back to the school, still slowed by mending bones and aching joints while walking with the aid of a cane, Akiona was greeted by the love of his students who wanted nothing more than to hug their mentor. Yet teachers had to restrain the youngsters ... for their boss’ well-being.
Concerned pupils even asked would he one day again walk or run? With the smile of a beloved leader, and the heart of a champion, he told them, “Eventually.”
Lights surely twinkled in the eyes of many of the youngsters who presented their principal with get-well cards while offering their assurances that all would be fine and that he one day would return to the school. He did his part, and even attended kindergarten graduation and fifth-grade awards night.
So we again ask the question, “Why does a principal serve as a principal?” We answer with our own question, “How many students does a school hold?”
The students are the reasons and regardless of their number.
When a teacher’s passion leads him or her into a role as principal, we are aware of only one significant change ... the size of the classroom.
Nat Akiona is the epitome of making a difference in the life of a child.
It is a role for which he is well suited.
It is why his students, and this community, welcome his return.