Jul 9, 2009

Retrospectives: "Turning Point"


The Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School's leader for the past seven and half years, my lovely boss and great wife (or great boss and lovely wife), Barbara A. Leen Maycock! This photo was taken in 2006 at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for our new playground, which Barbara obtained through a grant from the federal government.

In the fall of 2001, Babs and I were about ready to pack it in and head back to the Mainland. Oh, we were having a great time and all. We loved Saipan, we loved our work, and the people we worked with and for. But our two year commitment had extended to four and that seemed about right: The family was getting antsy for us to come back home. Our friends Aaron and Joyce would be moving back after this school year. Staying out in Saipan wasn’t prudent for us financially. What was it one of the church members back in Ohio said? “When are those two gonna ‘get real’ and come back to the States?”

That fall in the wake of September 11, when we felt especially the gulf between us and everyone else back in America, we even had a dinner with one of our fellow teachers, Vince and her then-husband for the express purpose of discussing a move to San Diego (where they’d both lived for quite some time). We thought southern California might be a good place to begin the next chapter in our lives.

And then in December everything changed. Evan Hendrix, our principal called us over to his house and dropped the bombshell. He had decided to resign as principal, effective immediately. And he wanted Barbara to be his successor. After that, everything happened so fast. The board approved her appointment as acting principal, Evan and family started packing up to leave, and Barbara started a crash course in school administration. Babs had always wanted to be a school principal eventually; she just didn’t expect it to happen like this. She imagined it would happen further down the road, not four years into her teaching career, smack dab in the middle of the school year. It was a tumultuous time—our church was in the midst of a rather traumatic scandal, one that effected Babs and me personally, as well as in our capacities as church leaders. Our best friends in Saipan were no longer even friendly acquaintances. Our dreams of business ownership had come to a standstill. And on top of all of this, Barbara was suddenly the boss.

By January 2002, the Hendrixes were gone and Babs was on her own. Well, not quite. She had a supportive board led by then-chairman Ernie Lacorte. She had wise counsel from her superiors in Guam, particularly the education director, Murray Cooper. And most importantly she had the guiding hand of God—she was relying heavily on Him to enable her to do the work before her. The rest of the school year passed quietly. The biggest move Babs made was the purchase of a new school vehicle--the car now affectionately known to us as "the Mirage"-- to replace the old green Mirage Tin Tin had totalled in a car wreck during the holidays. Mostly she listened and learned, feeling her way carefully into her new job, and avoiding the typical neophyte's tendency towards grand, splashy moves.

At the end of the year, the board was pleased enough with Bab's work to ask her to stay on for the following year as the permanent principal. She agreed. And so we reached a turning point in our time in Saipan. I don't think we realized it at the time. Even after Babs' appointment as principal we continued to envision ourselves leaving Saipan soon. In fact that summer of 2002, we even paid an exploratory visit San Diego for two days, celebrating our five year anniversary at the historic La Valencia hotel in La Jolla and then exploring the suburbs of San Deigo the next day, imagining ourselves living there. But whether we knew it or not, the die had been cast, we were going to be in Saipan for the long haul. With Barbara's promotion to the role of principal we had a new level of personal investment in the school that made leaving much less appealing. With the added income of the principal's salary, staying in Saipan for the long term also became financially feasible. We continued our annual summer trips to the States and that provided some satisfaction to our families.

The years that followed were full challenges and accomplishment. Over seven and a half years, through three GMM education suprintendents, two pastors, and two board chairs, Babs proved herself an able administrator, and only got better with each year. I suppose I'm biased, but here are the facts:

Under her leadership, the preschool moved from its old location in the church Sabbath School rooms to its current building in San Jose, the school lunchroom was renovated and enclosed, and the school vehicle fleet was gradually updated. Tens of thousands of dollars of ETC funds poured into the school's coffers. In addition the school's ESL program was developed and promoted thus cushioning our school from Saipan's recent economic trials as our enrollment actually increased as the economy declined. Spritual priorities stayed front and center during Barbara's tenure as principal--regular weeks of prayer, baptismal classes, and visiting speakers from the States encouraged our students to keep God in the center of their lives. She kept her eye on the academic ball too, emphasizing reading through her implementation of Drop Everything And Read (DEAR time), Buddy Reading, and the Book and Art Fair. She also added the tenth grade to our high school program. Most important of all Babs made vital progress towards the goal of building a new school campus--a dream that went all the way back to Steve Namkung, the principal who hired us. She garned donations, started the annual Walkathon to help raise funds, and identified several potential buildings and/or land sites that could house the future school.

Through all this she maintained a close connection with her students, teaching at least one class most of the time she was principal, and made a special effort to reach out to and appreciate her staff.

While no principal is perfect, I think Babs did a fantastic job, for several reasons. First, she was a great listener and always learned from her mistakes. She always took counsel with her board, with her superiors in Guam, with trusted mentors and friends before making any big decision. I always thought she beat herself up too much, but the flip side of that is that she was never arrogrant or unwilling to learn.

Second, she worked hard and never cut corners. She was stickler for doing things the right way and following established procedures, and as a result she maintained the school's stellar reputation in the community.

Third, she hired quality people. Babs firmly believed that "the best teacher is the best teacher" and she always sought to hire the best. Especially in the later years of her administration, as she learned to trust her instinct and God's guidance more (and know-it-all blowhards like me less!), she picked the cream of the crop--teachers, whether trained in the field or student missionaries, that were simply the best.

Babs with the Rock Stars, our staff from the 2006-2007 school year, and one of many great teams she's led over the years.

Finally, and most importantly, she always believed that our school, was God's school. Not in the exclusive sense, but in the inclusive sense that our school was an important part of the work God is doing in Saipan. She trusted Him implicitly, and in turn He gave her an almost uncanny sense of His will as she led the school. Barbara's deep trust in God paid off time and time again, and it is this trust that enabled her to lay down her mantle when the time came. For Babs, the school was never hers, it was always His.

As for me, I learned how to be married to my boss! While I think I was a pretty good employee (except for my tendency to interrupt with wisecracks in staff meetings and let my attention wander in staff worship), I think it took awhile for me to learn to be a good husband. For a long time I tended to worry too much, criticize too much--I'm amazed that Bab's was as patient with me as she was. I know I must have been a thorn in her side on many occasions, rather than the supporter standing at her side that she needed and deserved. But gradually, I was humbled into keeping my counsel or offering it only when it was sought--most of the time, anyway. I saw Barbara's instincts proved right over and over again, and my own reasoning confounded. I realized she really knew what she was doing, even when she was venting at home and didn't sound so sure. In the end, I had a privelege that most spouses rarely experience, that of working up close and in concert with their spouse as they pursue and excel in their career.

I think we both agree that Barbara's becoming principal of the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School was a great thing for the school and certainly one of the best things that ever happened to us.

Right now, the school is still looking for a principal, as the person who was to replace Barbara pulled out just days ago due to health concerns. It's reminiscent of those days so many years ago when Evan suddenly departed the scene, only this time it is someone else who will pick up the mantle and carry on. I can't imagine a better place to live, work, and lead then Saipan at our SDA school, and I would encourage any readers who feel God tugging at their hearts to contact our school board chairman, Ken Pierson at kendpierson@yahoo.com This could be a turning point in your life, and trust Babs and me, this is one turn you don't want to miss!

Barbara with one of our Saipan SDA School success stories, 8th grade valedictorian and class president in the class of 2005, Xian Xian Cui.

Babs with the 2005-2006 staff. (Not sure how we all got beheaded in the back row there!)

This is an outtake from one of my favorite promotional photos that Babs ever took. The final version of this photo ended up on a poster that was used for several years. The mix of older and younger students really captures what our school is all about--a family of learners.

1 comment:

Mai said...

I agree 100% with Barbara being an awesome principal! I feel so privileged to have begun my teaching career under her! I know God will continue to bless the school and bring the right person along! (ps. I'm glad you guys decided to stay!)