The Whiteboard

In the Darkest Times: Leading with Excellence

Jeff Legan, 2020 OASSA Principal of the Year

When the long-term principal announced his retirement, my eldest two children’s high school was assigned a new leader. I didn’t know Jeff Legan well, and I felt concerned about the unknown, as he would assume the principal position and lead the place where my children would spend significant and impactful years of their lives. But, my concerns were quickly alleviated on the first day of school that year.

My oldest son, Nick, was a senior in high school. One of the senior privileges was the use of an open-air, interior courtyard for outdoor lunch. The seniors used it as a fierce arena for games of four square. Nick came home that day excited to tell me that Mr. Legan, an amazing four square player, had spent the lunch period playing with the students. Within days, it seemed, Jeff knew the names of every student and many of the parents.

Throughout the next couple of years, I saw Jeff attend too many school events to count. Consistently upbeat, he undoubtedly loved his work. He was instrumental in driving systematic changes in educational methods, making the environment of our high school truly student-centered. He celebrated his family in school tweets, his pride in his own daughters clear, providing an example of strong and loving parenting.

Little did I know the impact he would have on my third child to attend the school, nor the level of excellence I would witness in Jeff during a time of tragedy.

My youngest daughter, Celia, worked as a lifeguard at the school’s indoor pool, an often thankless, boring job. One day in February of her senior year, she called me from work and said, “Mom, can you come up here? I made a save, and it isn’t good.” 

A champion swimmer and Celia’s friend and teammate for much of her life had been swimming laps. While watching him practice, Celia realized that he had not come up after making a turn. She dove in and lifted him to the surface, providing CPR with her manager, but her friend was not doing well. 

Within minutes, it seemed, Jeff arrived at the school with a counselor trained in trauma. He hugged my daughter and her co-lifeguard, telling them that he would do anything they needed as they processed what had happened. When he saw that they were still damp from the save, he went to the school store to bring them dry clothing, even offering his shoes to the other guard, whose own had to be left on the pool deck. Later, Celia and I were able to find some comfort in knowing that Jeff absolutely intended to give the shoes off his feet.

The following day, as we awaited news about the swimmer, Jeff opened the school for the swim and dive team, calling in local counselors and bringing in food for the athletes and their families. He knew that being together would help them share their grief and fear. As the week wore on, he allowed the teammates to congregate in the guidance office, giving them time and space to tell stories, pray if they wished, and cry. When it was announced that their friend and teammate had died, fresh wounds were opened, and every student there knew that Jeff would support and care for them. 

He allowed these children, in the darkest time of their young lives, to grieve and plan ways to honor their friend. He supported planting a tree in the boy’s honor on the grounds of the high school, made sure that his banner hung at the pool with those of the other seniors in his graduating class, and honored him at what would have been the young man’s graduation.

In the time since this young man died, Jeff has never failed to ask about my daughter whenever he sees me. She is a college sophomore now, and although she still carries the scars from that day, Jeff’s actions during that traumatic time comforted my daughter. 

I believe that being a school principal means more than simply providing discipline and running staff meetings. The job is about making the students feel safe in their environment. It is about making them feel valued, honoring their needs, and celebrating their achievements. Most of all, being a principal is about living life as a Christian role model. It is about excellence. I am truly thankful that Jeff Legan, four-square player extraordinaire, genuinely and wholeheartedly fulfills that role.

Anne Davidson Kusmer is a former English teacher and school counselor who has four amazing children with her husband of 29 years, Jim. Her youngest son now attends the high school led by Jeff Legan.


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