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 life in high school.

Perhaps because I was one of several excellent, but not a perfect, students in my class, I think I had a reasonable relationship with Mr. Bongiovanni – in as much as one of several hundred unruly and hormonally-drive kids could have with a person who had absolute authority over their life. Principals were definitely not pals in those days.

Mr. Bongiovanni was 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, very evident in the way he carried himself: ram-rod straight, impeccably dressed in a tailored suit, greying hair neatly trimmed. As another member of my class 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 know I tried Mr. Bongiovanni’s patience, not the least because I became regular visitor to his office during my class period for French class. I just couldn’t resist talking with my friends during the lessons. Madame Jacques, my French teacher, whom I regarded as old although she was probably in her 50s, suffered chattering, and almost everything else, poorly. As a result, more than once she sent me to Mr. Bongiovanni’s office for discipline. The first time he found me sitting outside his office, he called me in and raising an eyebrow, asked me why I was there.

“I talked out of turn in French class,” I replied blushing. You never lied to Mr. B.

“Madame Jacques?” he asked.


Apparently that was self-explanatory. “Why don’t you go back outside and sit on the bench until the bell rings.”

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?” and indicate the bench.

Treating students as adults was one of Mr. Bongiovanni’s outstanding characteristics, although I think disappointed him more than once in that respect. One day I was bet by a classmate I couldn’t slide down the banisters from the third floor to the basement of the high school. I’d 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 banister, I had to hike my skirt up to my hips. Then I straddled the wood, started to slide, and six sections of banister 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 – again.

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.”

“Try walking.”

Another day, I had a run-in with a rather randy and elderly biology teacher, who was known for the inuendos he made to girls in his class. His behavior hadn’t elicited any reaction from the administration, possibly because we girls recognized it as foolish and ignored it. One day during class, for a reason that has escaped my memory, this teacher grabbed ruler, chased me around the room, then out the door and down the hall. He cornered me at the sinks just outside the cafeteria. At that point I had no idea of his intentions, whether it was a joke or something more serious, and panicked.

Mr. Bongiovanni appeared out of nowhere. I never knew if one of my classmates had contacted his office. All I remember hearing is, “Miss Parsons, you can return to your classroom.” I didn’t wait around, I ran! And then feared that I would be punished. Several days passed before I relaxed. Mr. Bongiovanni never spoke to me of that incident, and the teacher never approached me again.

Sometime after I graduated, Mr. Bongiovanni resigned as principal and joined the Massachusetts Department of Education where he held a number of executive positions.

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



17 thoughts on “The Principal and I”

  1. Oh I loved this, Noelle. What a fabulous and understnding teacher. I had one special English teacher who encouraged me with my stories and poems. He told me I would write a book one day – though I was never sure what he meant, because he always said it after one of my excuses as to why I was late to class. Hmm

  2. He sounds delightful. I’ve also had very inspiring teacher, but was reasonably well behaved, at least compared to some of my classmates! Thanks, Noelle.

  3. petespringerauthor

    It sounds like Mr. B was good at his job. I especially like the comment about treating his students like young adults. I worked for many types of administrators during my career. Some were amazing, others terrible, and many were somewhere in the middle. The good ones were worth their weight in gold. When I had an outstanding principal, I did not want to let him/her down.

  4. Good teachers are essential to future learning; i had several whose many and varied characteristics had an impact. One, head of sixth form and my french teacher was Geoff Bain; caring and thoughtful who was once accidentally kicked when it hurts during an attempt to persuade a fellow pupil while explaining the subjunctive or some such

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