When asked what the best piece of advice principal Chuck Hughes has given to his assistant principal Alice Lashbrook over the years, she thought for a minute and then laughed recalling the piece about never physically chasing down any wayward students.
“He really has said that,” Lashbrook said laughing. “We never chase kids ‘cause they always gotta come back to us.”
This type of sense of humor has helped Hughes run a successful and positive school enviroment, according to Lashbrook and just one of the reasons why she decided to nominate her mentor for the Michigan Secondary Principal of the Year award.
Hartland Schools announced last week that he had won the prestigious award from the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) and Hughes is now representing Michigan and in the running at the national level for Principal of the Year. Hughes had no information at the time of the interview when a decision would be made regarding the national nomination.
“The award really is indicative of what we do as a school,” Hughes said. “What we do and the culture we provide for our students. It’s a very small part of the leadership, but it's what the teachers do in the classroom every day that really makes a big difference.”
The humble reaction from Hughes regarding the honor is typical of the man who, according to his staff, has such a large impact in the school but hardly ever takes credit for its accomplishments. Preparing his students for the real world, not just academically but emotionally and socially as well, while creating opportunities that will help his students succeed beyond high school is what sets him apart from his competition, according to Lashbrook.
"Here in Hartland we might not have the diversity that other places have," Lashbrook said. "We might not have some of the problems and situations that occur, but I think that he has a way of at least introducing our kids to what they are going to experience in their lives outside of these walls that I don't think other principals do. He's very hands-on."
A long history in Hartland
Hughes, who has been principal at Hartland for 12 years, is a graduate of Howell High School and a former assistant principal in Texas and Novi before coming to Hartland. This will also be the last year Hughes will be principal at Hartland since starting next fall he will move to the central office as the new Director of Curriculum and Instruction. It's a position Hughes said he is excited for but also still a little apprehensive about as he leaves the familiar hallways and classrooms of a school setting.
That familiar and constant presence in the hallways as well as his well-known accessibility to his students with things like "I Need You" passes that every student receives at the beginning of the school year which gives a guarenteed audience with their principal whenever they need it, are just some of the other reasons why he deserves the award, according to his longtime assistance Joanne Franklin.
“He’s not a sit “behind the desk,” kind of principal,” Franklin said. “He treats them just like he would his own children. He’s everywhere and the students know that….and I think that makes a big difference."
A father of two, Hughes says that he treats his students just like he would his own and says that raising his kids has helped him be a better principal -- as well as the support he receives from his wife, Chris.
“Doing this job and the demands of the job, I need to know that I’m supported in what I do and my wife certainly does that,” Hughes said. “I wouldn’t do it without her.”
Being able to create that positive while productive working environment is something that his staff and Hughes credit to his dry and sarcastic sense of humor.
“My favorite moments are when I’m laughing and when I’m having a good time at work,” Hughes said. “I like to laugh and that’s a side that a lot of people don’t necessarily see all the time.”
Lashbrook agrees saying that having Hughes in the building helps to alleviate some of the stressful moments and he always seems to have the ability to make the staff laugh whenever it's needed.
“I’m a big believer in humor,” Lashbrook said. “And I believe that if you can’t laugh at least once a day, you're doing something wrong. And so he always does that for us somehow, whether its what he says or actions that he does, and yet at the end of the day, he holds us all accountable and we know that.”
A positive role model and mentor
His students as well understand what it is like to be held accountable by their principal. For 17-year-old senior Austin Harris, Hughes has become a mentor as well as a positive support system for the teenager.
“He helps me out a lot,” Austin said. “With stuff at home and he even asks me about my job. He cares about me a lot, I can tell. …He’s takes cares of us like basically everyone in this school is his family.”
The Principal of the Year award seems to be a fitting send-off for Hughes as he begins the next phase in his career. The relationship with his staff is just one of the things Hughes says he will miss next year, but also the daily interactions with his students. All of his students, Hughes adds, even the ones who may seem like trouble but can still make him laugh.
“You gotta love em,” Hughes said. “You gotta love em through the good and bad just like your own children. And you just got understand kids are kids. It doesn’t change."