SOUTH KINGSTOWN – This past year has presented numerous challenges and obstacles, but South Kingstown High School Principal Dr. Chip McGair has managed to weather the storm beyond everyone’s expectation.
While he’s only been at the helm a little over a year, Assistant Principal Jonathan Rapport believes McGair has successfully created an even closer knit school community during these challenging times.
“You can see the impact from the day he started until now,” Rapport said. “It’s a completely different place — it’s very friendly, it’s very welcoming. Despite all of the COVID challenges, kids know it’s a safe place.”
This safe, fun and cohesive community McGair has helped build at South Kingstown High School is exactly why Rapport was inspired to nominate him for first-year principal of the year.
When McGair was called down to the front office last Wednesday, he had no idea that Executive Director Bob Littlefield of Rhode Island Association of School Principals would be waiting for him with the award in hand.
Each year, the award recognized an exceptional principal just starting their career, and McGair was chosen from a number of other nominations, according to Littlefield. The association ultimately came to their decision following a virtual visit to the high school — a process which all of the other finalists also experienced.
“You’ve earned it for the job you’ve done and the impression you’ve made on South Kingstown High School,” Littlefield announced to McGair in front of fellow administrators and his family. “As the parent of two Rebel graduates, 2007 and 2010, and a citizen and taxpayer of South Kingstown, it’s nice to know our high school is in such good hands.”
Superintendent Linda Savastano expressed what an honor it would be for a principal to receive this award even under the best of circumstances, never mind the Herculean efforts that have gone into leading the school community through a pandemic.
“Many people can lead on a good day, and it’s not been a good day,” Savastano said. “To lead successfully, though this critical and scary time, really shows strong leadership and we’re lucky to have him on our team.”
She credits McGair for making a positive difference on the entire school district each day — not just the high school. The district is lucky, Savastano said, to have him on their team.
Apart from his initial reaction of shock and thanks, however, it was McGair who proclaimed to be the lucky one “to be here and working with everybody.”
“Yes, we’ve had some bumps along the way, but we’ve built such a great team here that it’s been great coming to work each day,” McGair said. “Even with all that.”
Before coming on board as South Kingstown High School’s new principal last year, McGair had spent the past few years serving as the district’s STEM coordinator — a role McGair said he thoroughly enjoyed. Prior to this, McGair brought 16 years of experience with him from other districts. In Warwick, he served as a science teacher, department chair, graduation by proficiency coordinator and assistant principal before making the jump to southern Rhode Island.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be a high school principal — certainly not in South Kingstown,” McGair said. “When the opportunity presented itself, I decided to go for, and I’m so glad I did.”
His favorite part of the job, by far, has been the people he works alongside. All of them have taken the challenges this year has presented in stride, he said, and done their best work to safely bring students back into the classroom. Being able to see the students faces, even if half of it is covered by a mask, has been a welcomed change compared to virtual instruction.
The entire building buzzes with a different kind of energy, McGair said, and “to be able to be the principal of a school that’s this awesome, mean’s everything.”
The efforts of administrators, teachers and, of course, students, have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated by McGair. Although the school day is a bit different than normal, students have embraced health and safety guidelines so they can continue coming into the physical, brick and mortar school building.
“They’re doing an amazing job at following the rules,” McGair said, be it always wearing their mask, following the one-way hallway rules, taking their temperature every morning or testing once a week. “Everyone being willing to adapt to whatever’s thrown at them is why it’s such a great place to work.”