N.B. The four excerpts from Coffee & Chat are not in the story-line order.
After another long and busy day, Nicole was helping out in the the main Coffee & Chat shop when she answered her mobile. It was an unexpected call from Dustin Harris, chairperson of Conway Intermediate School.
“Hi Dustin,” she said. “Yes, I know I was going to give you my formal resignation from the associate principal’s position by the end of the year but can do it earlier if you wish. I suppose you want to have the permanent position filled by the beginning of next year.”
“Anything but,” Dustin replied. “In fact, I’m calling about almost the opposite reason.”
Nicole frowned. “No, I don’t want to return to my position there.”
Duncan gave a small chuckle. “Your original opinion proved to be right.”
“And that was?”
“At the beginning of the year you said you didn’t think Danielle Plier was suitable to run a city intermediate school. That has proved correct.”
“Did I? So much has happened to me this year, I’ve almost forgotten about her.”
“It’s been a tough year here and the school has really crumbled under her leadership. There is too much to mention now but I can tell you the climax.”
“She applied for and was appointed as the principal of a country school and will begin there in February next year. It’s actually a demotion but her excuse is that she wishes to be nearer her elderly mother.”
“Interesting but why tell me at this time. It’s still November with four weeks to go before schools close for the Christmas holidays.”
“There’s more. She told us this at our Board of Trustees last night and has applied for stress leave immediately in lieu of her resignation from the end of January.”
“So Roger as deputy principal takes over. What’s the problem?”
“He’s retiring at the end of the year and really isn’t suitable.”
“I see, so all the senior positions will be advertised at once, which must look bad for any suitable applicant. You don’t want me to permanently resign now so the newly appointed principal and DP can get establish first next year?”
“Wrong!” came back Dustin’s blunt voice. “We want you to come back next week as Acting Principal until the end of the year.”
“Can you come to a special meeting of our Board of Trustee’s this evening? There, we’ll bring you up to date on the confidential situation and why we need you at the helm.”
Nicole mind was in a whirl.
“Are you still there, Nicole?” Dustin asked.
“Oh yes, sorry about the hesitation. It’s just a bit of a shock, that’s all. I’ve got my business to run, you know.”
“I’ve heard that it’s proving to be very successful but you can delegate. Didn’t you also say that was something that Danielle Plier wasn’t prepared to do?”
“Possibly.” Nicole retorted. “Okay I’ll come to your meeting but promise nothing. Can I bring Rhett to represent me?”
“Yes, he’ll be welcome. Danielle Plier won’t be there but she has a lawyer coming to represent her interests. He will have no say in any offer we make to you and will really be there just to see that her name is not defamed.”
“Sounds like her,” Nicole muttered. “But isn’t Monday somewhat rushed?”
“The sooner the impasse is settled, the better. It’s delicate and we don’t wish to make matters worse by refusing her application for medical leave.”
“You’ve certainly given me something to think about, Dustin. Usual time and place for the meeting, I guess.”
“A bit earlier. Would six be too early?”
“It should be okay but I’ll need to talk to Rhett about your offer. Thanks for the call.”
She clicked off and immediately called Rhett to tell him the news.
When Nicole arrived at the BOT meeting at Conway Intermediate School she realised that she knew most but not all the members. They greeted her warmly and it wasn’t long before she had an outline of what was happening at the school. In her opinion it was a sad list with not only the technology section but just about everything else at the school affected. There was also a list of requests from Danielle Plier that the board had rejected such as the request to stop using school bells. This showed that the principal had not managed to get her own way about everything.
When invited, she stood and faced the others, thanked them for inviting her and continued with a question. “So why has she banned Christmas decorations next month?” she asked.
Anna Jared, a senior teacher and staff representative on the board, replied. “She stated that it was wrong to expect students of different cultures to participate in western society beliefs.”
“I see,” Nicole replied and turned to face Dustin. “If I accept this acting principal position, can I change any practices the school now has or do I merely guide the school as well as I can until the end of the year?”
“In this case of a Christmas ban on decorations what would you suggest?” Dustin replied.
“Part of the thrill of school life as I remember it and I might add, that of this school had under the previous principal, was the fun and excitement of this time of the year. We had Christmas trees and decorations everywhere. I would reinstate this and also allow other celebrations to be included.” Nicole stopped talking, glanced around the room and flushed. Everyone’s eyes were on her! “Sorry, I guess I waffled on a little.”
Everyone broke into applause, which embarrassed her more. With her face burning she grinned slightly and sat down.
Unanimously, the BOT agreed to let Danielle Plier take medical leave for the remainder of the school year and to accept her resignation from the end of January. They also agreed that Nicole could make any changes she considered necessary to help the school if she was appointed as acting principal and to offer her the position starting from the following Monday. This would continue throughout the Christmas vacation or until a new principal was elected in term one of the following year.
“We apologise for the restricted time frame, Nicole but do you accept this appointment?” Dustin asked
She glanced up at Rhett who gave a slight nod.
“I may need massive help from this board,” she said.
“It will provided,” Dustin said.
“In that case I accept,” she said and again the room erupted into applause.
“How do I look?” Nicole asked Rhett after she stepped out of the bedroom dressed in a modest summer dress and sun hat for the springtime November days were becoming quite hot.
He grinned. “What, no formal suit, high heels and your hair pulled up into a bun?” he asked.
“I am not Danielle Plier,” she retorted. “One of the first things I am going to do is to cancel the staff dressing code of formal attire even on hot days.”
Having received the keys from Dustin, she arrived at the school at seven-thirty after that extra hour of free time in the morning, to find the caretaker, someone she had not met, unlocking the premises.
“Can I help you, Lady?” he asked after he waited by the front door. “I am afraid no other staff are here, yet.”
Nicole held out her hand. “You must be Warner, our caretaker. I’m Nicole the new principal for a while.”
Warner gulped. “The new principal!” he gasped. “Here already. I expected…” He wiped a hand over his chin. “Well someone different. You look so… err… ordinary, not a big boss.”
Nicole chucked. “And what did you expect, Warner?”
“Someone older and in a business suit, Miss Turner,” he spluttered.
“Call me Nicole.”
Warner grinned. “I know you used to teach here, Nicole but let me show you around.”
“That’s okay,” she replied. “Just unlock the office for now and perhaps boil the kettle in the staffroom. Dustin will be here at eight for he called an early meeting to introduce me to the staff. Except for the new teachers, I know most of them anyway.”
An hour and a half later, Roger the deputy principal introduced her to the six hundred students seated in the school assembly hall. It was a tight squeeze with thirty or so sitting on the carpet before those on seats. Three board members and senior staff sat along from her on the stage while the other teachers stood along the walls near their classes.
“‘Many of you who were here last year will know me so I am not a complete stranger,” she began in her reply after being welcomed. “I know it has been a hard year for you all but with your help we can have an enjoyable last month of the academic year. There will be some changes, of course, but it is really up to you to help us all pull together.” She smiled. “Oh yes, I almost forgot to tell you, our Board of Trustees have accepted an offer from a local forestry company to provide us with Christmas trees for every classroom. We’re going to have a small contest to see what room can have the best decorated Christmas tree and classroom. This contest will start as soon as the trees arrive tomorrow.”
Applause broke out throughout the hall.
“There is one other thing that will affect half of you,” she continued. “The Board have approved to alter the girls’ summer uniform. As soon as they arrive at school or local clothing stores, your parents or caregivers will be able to buy shorts for you to wear. You will have a choice of these or the traditional skirts.”
Applause followed. When the clapping subsided a cheeky male voice called out “What about the boys?”
Nicole smiled. “Of course boys will be allowed to wear skirts if they wish,” she responded.
Laughter erupted everywhere. She glanced across at Dustin who gave her a thumbs up sign. This was a good beginning for her arrival.