The Principal and I

I remember learning the difference in spelling the homonyms principle and principal: the principal is your pal. One principal in particular – Mr. Lawrence Bongiovanni – made an indelible impression on me, and I’d like to thank him, belatedly, for his contributions to my education.

I was an excellent student (f I do say so myself), but not a perfect pupil, a fact on which I will elaborate. Nevertheless, I think I had a reasonable relationship with Mr. Bongiovanni, as much as one of several hundred kids could have with a person with absolute authority over their lives. Principals were definitely not pals in those days.

Mr. Bongiovanni was my high school principal and a true son on Plymouth, having been educated in the town’s public schools. He had served in the FBI prior to and during WWII, and it was very evident in the way he carried himself: ram-rod straight, impeccably dressed in a tailored suit, greying hair neatly trimmed. As another PHs alumnus wrote of him: “He was a man of personal culture, dignified in his bearing without being aloof, respectful of his students as individuals in a way that was cordial without being familiar.”

I do believe I tried Mr. Bongiovanni’s patience, not the least because I became regular visitor to his office because of French class. I was an insufferable chatterer in French class. Madame Jaques, my French teacher, suffered talkers poorly and more than once sent me to Mr. Bongiovanni for discipline. The first time he found me sitting outside his office, he called me in and asked me why I was there. I didn’t lie and told him I liked to talk in French class.

“Madame Jaques?”


Apparently that was self-explanatory. He instructed me to go back outside and wait until the bell. I do believe I saw a faint smile on his face. When I showed up thereafter, he would just sigh and ask, “Not again, Miss Parsons?”

One day I was bet by a classmate I couldn’t slide down the bannisters from the third floor to the basement of the high school. Never met a bet I wouldn’t take! In those days I frequently wore what is today called a pencil skirt – tight and straight – so in order to ride the bannister, I had to hike my skirt up to my hips. Then I straddled the wood, started to slide, and six sections of bannister later, I arrived in the basement. Mr. Bongiovanni’s antennae must have been operating at full strength, because he was waiting for me at the end of my ride. I stood before him, pulling down my skirt and probably blushing.

I swear he was having a hard time keeping a straight face when he asked, “Miss Parsons, do you think you could find a more dignified way to come downstairs?”

“Yes, Mr. Bongiovanni.”

It was one of his outstanding characteristics that he treated the students as adults, although I clearly didn’t get the message at the time.

Sometime after I graduated, Mr. Bongiovanni resigned as principal and joined the Massachusetts Department of Education. There he held a number of executive positions, notable among which were director of the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and assistant to the Commissioner of Education.

He died in 2010, so my thoughts and thanks come a little late, but are nevertheless heartfelt. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Bongiovanni.



42 thoughts on “The Principal and I”

  1. He sounds lovely, Noelle. And you sound like a wonderful troublemaker! Ha ha 🙂 From that hint of a smile, it seems he enjoyed your spunk. I love stories about teachers that had such a heartfelt impact on their students. Thanks for sharing.

        1. A lot of my teachers were “old maids” – Madame Jacque was rumored to have lost her fiancee in WWI (she was quite old when I had her) and had never recovered from her loss. Might have explained her crankiness.

  2. How wonderful it was that he recognised your spirit and didn’t try to break it. I also use the mnemonic of Princi’pal’. I worked for some (one) mighty fine principals, but don’t remember any from my school days coming close to that.

  3. You were lucky; most of my heads – masters and mistresses – were terrifying or incompetent and probably both. The worst, Mr Ackers, latched onto my name when watching the first form rugby team and bellowed his fury at our pathetic attempts with a ‘Le Pard and the forwards COME ON’. I still shudder.

    1. Actually Agent Bongiovanni in my books is named and fashioned after another Bongiovanni – a six foot 11 inch boy in my high school class. He is so excited to be one of my characters!

  4. What a great man. I had a few teachers I still think fondly of, but this seems a lot more special. And also, a great trick to remember the spelling and the difference between the two words. Great intro, and a wonderful tribute to someone who sure sounds special, Noelle.

  5. What a sweet man. Principals definitely don’t get enough credit! My principal in elementary school actually saved my life! One year, during massive floods, the bridge washed out that I crossed to get home, but I was young, so thought I could wade through the river. My principal must have had some sort of Spidey Sense, because he’d actually followed our bus and caught me three feet from the raging river and told me not to cross. Instead, he took me to his home where his wife gave me freshly baked chocolate chip cookies…. I found out later that the entire bridge had been washed away and I would have definitely drowned if I’d tried to cross it!

  6. My High School Principal was an educational visionary who full appreciated an arts education as well as expecting high academic excellence, like me he didn’t see there was any conflict between the two. He welcomed me onto the Student Council although I guess I he was surprised at my election, he also seemed to welcome my suggestions although some were out of the box!

    I loved your stories, especially the pencil skirt slide, I think leggings in the sixth form were banned because of me, I took them to a new dimension.

  7. Good for you, being brave enough to be a troublemaker in school, and in FRENCH class, no less. I never had the courage (nor the French speaking skills). I kept my mouth shut and hoped I’d never be called on! :-0
    However, I DID get in trouble for wearing my dresses too short (the mini-dress era). They almost wouldn’t let me be part of the Honor Society for one particular red dress. I fought for my rights, and won…(and if I do say so myself, I rocked that red dress). Ha Ha.

    1. It sounds like you were a really good student, and I think all of us at one time or another rebelled at our image. I was seen as such a goody two-shoes, and I think that gave me the freedom to do something at least semi-rebellious. I knew I’ve be forgiven! Thanks for your comment!

  8. This is super, Noelle – I greatly enjoyed reading it. You were quite the little scamp, weren’t you? Reading this – and thinking of you sliding down the bannister with your skirt haphazardly hiked around your hips – put a huge smile on my face! 😀

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