Memories of Mother Valorie, A Great Principal

by James Leo Rzegocki
Seattle, Washington

A large body of educational research shows that one of the prime determinants of a school's success is the degree of positive actions and attitudes of the principal. I can attest to the truth of that because I worked for just such a principal for twelve years. Mother Valorie Nehl was one the best bosses I ever had. I arrived at Star of the Sea School in Astoria, Oregon as a raw, first-year teacher. In addition to a master teacher with whom I met weekly, I also spent a great deal of time with Mother Valorie. For several years we shared my class of eighth grade students; she taught them language arts while I taught computer programming in the lab next door. I can say without any doubt that Mother Valerie helped me to grow into a good, professional educator with her patient, positive approach.

Her spirit infused Star of the Sea School. She was absolutely delighted in the company of children; her hearty laugh echoing down the halls as she encountered one or more of the students. She was easy and joyful to be with and an inveterate tease. At the same time, she expected her students to be disciplined and orderly. If you ever spent time in the cafeteria while she was on duty, you got a great sense of that. Students were talking and laughing, enjoying their lunch, but also playing within a strong set of guidelines.

Some of her favorite students were the 'bad' ones, the 'problem' students. I know because my son was one of them. When he was in one of the primary grades, he had great quantities of energy and curiosity coupled with a short attention span. This caused more than a few grey hairs in his teacher's head. She would often send him out of the room, down the hall to the Principal's Office. He'd knock at the door. Mother Valorie would invite him in and ask if he'd like a peppermint, which he always did. They'd talk and joke and she would help him to see what he was doing in the gentlest way. She recognized his aptitude for mechanical devices early on (he has since graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering), tasking him with fixing her typewriter which he did. Afterwards, I might hear about the encounter from Mother Valorie or Francis, but only in the most positive terms with no stigma attached to the episode.

More about the life of Mother Valorie.