New Bate principal enjoys first day back at old school

August 11, 2004|HERB BROCK

When Bate Middle School started the 2004-05 school year this morning, a new traffic pattern was put into effect and it was Michael Godbey's job to enforce it.

As a steady stream of vehicles poured from Stanford Avenue onto the drive leading up to school, Godbey, holding a walkie-talkie in one hand and pointing left with the other, told each driver to pull down as far as he or she could to a spot on the southeast side of the building. From that point, the students were to enter a side door.

This pattern represented a major departure from when parents automatically would turn right as they approached the school. It was a daunting task for Godbey, who was starting a new job this morning.

The new principal at Bate could've been shuffling papers in his office or shuffling down the corridors of the school while a teacher or another staff member handled the task, but Godbey decided he wanted to be where the action was on the first day of classes and the first day of his career as a principal.


"Please pull down as far as you can and let your kids off. They'll be entering through the side door," said the 35-year-old rookie principal, wearing a bluish-gray business suit, a burr haircut and a big smile. "We're trying to avoid having traffic backed up on Stanford Avenue like in past years."

Perhaps because he smiled his directions instead of barking them, Godbey had his orders obeyed without incident or protest, unless a few puzzled looks and hands in the air would constitute protest. That's saying something for creatures of habit who are suddenly faced with having to break it cold turkey. In fact, more than a few applauded the new drop-off pattern.

"This is the way I used to do it last year, while everybody else was going in front of the building," one mother told Godbey. "I think this really eases the back-up of cars onto Stanford."

Godbey appreciated that stamp of approval. But he really liked the drive-by words of encouragement he was receiving from parents and children who rolled down their windows to yell them.

"Morning, Mr. Godbey," said a parent.

"Hi, Mr. Godbey," said a student.

But parent Sarah Hempel went right to the main matter on Godbey's mind.

"Hello, Mr. Godbey. Are you ready?" said Hempel.

"Oh, yes, I'm ready," Godbey replied.

In fact, Godbey had been ready since 4:45 a.m., when he got out of bed.

"Well, that was when I actually got up. I had been waking up several times during the night," he said.

He arrived at 6:40 a.m.

Godbey arrived at Bate at 6:40 a.m., more than an hour before the first bell was to ring.

"I wasn't the first one here. Custodians were already here," he said.

The early arrival gave Godbey time to think about the day ahead - and the years behind. Today wasn't really the first day for Godbey at Bate. In the early 1980s, he experienced his first day as a student. "I had gone through my elementary school years at Jennie Rogers, which was much smaller than Bate," he said. "I remember the first day of my sixth-grade year and how nervous I was because Bate looked so huge."

Godbey also remembers how it was during his sixth-grade year that he received encouragement from teachers to become an educator.

"They told me they thought I would be a good teacher, even a principal," he said. "I took it to heart. I decided during my sixth-grade year that I was going to become an educator."

After graduating from Danville High School, Godbey pursued his goal at the University of Kentucky, where he earned a bachelor's degree in education, and at Eastern Kentucky University, where he received a master's degree in education and a Rank I certification in administration.

But today his goals involved not what he could achieve for himself but what he could help his students and teachers accomplish. "My goal today is to get the year started on a positive note," said Godbey, who was planning to do just that with an upbeat welcoming address at an assembly at 7:55 a.m., just before classes were to start.

"For the year, I want to do all I can to make the students feel comfortable and safe and to create an environment where both students and faculty can perform to the best of their abilities," he said, giving a tip of the hat to his predecessor, Paige Stevens, now a highly distinguished educator with the state Department of Education, for developing such an "environment" during her tenure.

"We are going to work together to do well in the classroom and to improve our CATS (Comprehensive Accountability and Testing System) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) results and to keep closing the achievement gaps. I can facilitate this by setting the most positive tone, direction and atmosphere I can."

That kind of positive attitude doesn't surprise Cathie Harris. An art teacher at Bate since 1978, Harris recalls Godbey as a student with the same attitude. "I remember Michael was a good student and was interested in education," said Harris, who was on bus duty this morning and also helping to organize the assembly. "But mostly I remember he was a very positive young man."

As a veteran teacher, it's hard for Harris to become too sentimental over yet another changing of the guard in the principal's office. "Michael is the seventh or eighth principal I've worked under," she said.

But she does allow a little emotion when she thinks of the grown man who was once her student now serving as her boss and the homecoming today represented for both of them.

"Life has gone full circle for both us," she said. "I'm happy he's back. If he's as good a principal as he was a student, he'll be fine, and so will the school."

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