When Sardis secondary’s principal Bob Long was going through school, he never imagined his life choices would keep him in school for 34 more years.
See, Long was your average, middle of the road student. While he was great at sports, he never felt academically inclined. With his grades hovering in the B range, he often felt inferior to his peers raking in the As.
Many days, he couldn’t wait to be done with school.
“All the way through school, I had a feeling I was a crow; I never felt particularly smart,” he said.
“It’s funny that after all these years I stayed in school.”
On Dec. 31, Long’s school career will complete. After 34 years of teaching kids, developing alternate education programs, working with special needs, administering schools, building relationships, Long’s office door will finally close.
The Sardis secondary principal is retiring.
When Long graduated from high school, he had no idea what he wanted to do. He enrolled at Langara College, but dropped out after just a year figuring it was a waste of time. He floated through mill work for a few years, but realized that wasn’t a future for him.
Because he loved working with kids, and had been coaching Little League for years, he enrolled at the University of British Columbia in the teaching program.
It was there that he finally felt smart in school.
“I had three amazing professors who motivated me with their teaching,” he said. “They got me turned on to learning.”
Long started his full-time career in Prince George, developing adaptive physical education programs for children with special needs.
He took them hiking, bowling, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing.
“Anything that typical kids could do, we tried to figure out a way of adapting those activities so that these kids could do them too.”
It didn’t take long for his hard work to be noticed. After just four years, Long was already in the administrative office as vice principal.
He is proof, he said, that being a leader doesn’t always start in elementary or high school.
Long’s personal experience with school has been at the forefront of nearly every decision he has made in his career. Cycling across Canada to raise awareness around the need for more recreational opportunities for students with special needs, he did for the benefit of his students. Motivating less fortunate children to raise thousands of canned goods in spite of themselves needing those goods, he did for the benefit of his students. Keeping the door to his office open every day of his career, he did for the benefit of his students.
“We acknowledge our top end kids and we do a real good job of dealing with our at-risk kids, but I really feel the bulk of our kids, the average kids, don’t always get a lot of acknowledgement in our system,” he said.
“But many of these kids are going to leave our system and they’re going to become leaders. We have to somehow create opportunities for all of our kids to get turned on to learning so that they have a chance to be successful earlier in their lives.”
Long is not your old-fashioned, stern-faced principal, where the only time his students see him is when they’re being disciplined.
Quite the opposite.
His office has always been an open door to students, staff, parents and anyone else in the community wanting to speak with him. When his students are in the hallways, he’s in the hallways talking, laughing, joking with them, and also reminding them when they need to be in their classrooms. And every morning, for the past six years, he’s religiously been out in his school’s foyer conversing with his student’s with a “Mr. Long special” in hand: coffee with a touch of hot chocolate purchased from the school canteen.
“If you take time to talk to these kids individually, they will actually act more like adults because you are giving them positive attention,” said Long. “My style has cost me a lot, because I am so relational during the day, and there’s still paperwork needing to be done. But the benefits outweigh the costs.
“The thing I’m really going to miss is wandering around, talking to these guys,” he said, a wide-mouthed smile on his face as he pointed out his office window to the crowded corridor of students.
“They like me and I like them. Even when I’m disciplining them, they still respect me. Why can’t kids leave here liking and respecting their principal?”