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Someone pinch me.

I had a feeling it would be a good meeting after the principal sent that email with the exciting news that he and Sophie share a birthday — but still, I held my breath as I walked into the school yesterday afternoon for a gathering of Team Sophie. And when we all went around the table and introduced ourselves, my throat closed up like it always does when it was my turn.

“Amy Silverman, Mom,” I said, hoping no one noticed my voice crack. I’ve sat around this conference room table with most of these women for years now, but this time there was a big absence: The Old Principal.

The Old Principal retired last year, and I have to admit that the celebration was pretty universal — every parent I know had had it with her. She wasn’t the worst principal ever, I’m sure, but probably one of the fakest. Fake as in she always had a super sunny greeting, a giant smile, a too-quick explanation, and a lot of gingham decorations all over the school office. When she came from another school in the district a few years ago she brought along a cabal of smiley women who are all too good with the die-cut machine to earn my trust.

And here’s the main thing: Sophie didn’t like her. I shouldn’t say that. It’s not like Sophie actively hated this woman, more that she had no use for her. And that’s not typical with Sophie. As I’ve said before, she can take one whiff and tell if you’re the real thing.

The New Principal? Definitely the real thing. I’d heard all about him before we met — and the fact that he’d sat down and read Sophie’s IEP for no other reason than because she’s a kid at his school? I was in love before first sight. Every time The Old Principal and I would have an “issue” over the years (and we had our share — like the time she told me Sophie needed to act like a typical kid if she wanted to attend this public school, or the instance where Sophie was bullied in the lunch room after I’d plead forever for extra help for her there) she’d be quick to remind me all about her background in special ed.

Yeah. And I’m sure some of her best friends are gay/black/developmentally disabled. Whatever. She sucked. But we smiled hard (literally) at each other til she left.

Yesterday’s meeting wasn’t one of those DEFCON situations I’ve been in before. It was the meeting we ask for in the IEP each year, since Sophie’s IEP comes around in the spring and it seems like a good idea to meet after a month of a new grade at school to see how things are going.

Things are going well. Really well, by all accounts. But still, I walked into that room extremely concerned about Sophie’s handwriting — and the fact that for years now, I’ve asked for someone to implement a system where she uses the same device for written expression, across the board. (As opposed to hand writing in one class, a laptop in another and the iPad in still another.) I always ask, and everyone always mumbles. The Old Principal would look at her Blackberry and look bored and I’d worry that I was pushing too hard. And nothing would change. By this summer, Sophie’s physical therapist was horrified that nothing was in place; her nanny (the one with the special ed teaching degree) was, too. I was feeling extra guilty — and lost.

This time, I walked in and there was literally a solution on the table — an iPad holder and a tiny wireless keyboard to go with it. All I needed to do was order it, send our iPad to school every day (something I’ve offered for two years) and voila — Sophie will be able to write. (Well, she will have the tools, anyway.)

To be fair, the occupational therapist was probably planning on that anyhow, but it became clear during yesterday’s meeting that the principal had approached each team member the previous day to go over concerns and be sure everyone was ready for this meeting. When I mentioned that I was looking for a home occupational therapist, he excused himself and came back with a recommendation. He’s on top of it.

And more than that, the guy is genuine. I can’t really describe it;  you’ll just have to take my word for it. (Sophie’s word, too, she’s smitten.) The principal admitted after the meeting that he’s fallen hard for Sophie. “She’s melted my heart,” he said, adding that he has a purple shirt he looks forward to wearing because he knows the reaction he’ll get.

Sweet nothings aside, this is a man who actually told me he wants to create an environment for my kid — my kid with Down syndrome – where she’ll be able to fully use and develop her own voice.

See? Public education isn’t dead — just bleeding by the side of the road. Coincidentally, yesterday I heard a report on NPR that Arizona has cut K-12 more than any other state in the nation in the last five years. Nice. Why someone like this guy (he said he’s a recent transplant to the state) wants to take something like that on is beyond me — but I’m incredibly grateful he does. And grateful for Sophie’s wonderful classroom teacher, her aide, her special education teacher, and the entire village she’s surrounded with at this school. (I do wonder how the principal will get along with the school psychologist who told me two years ago that Sophie has the cognitive abilities of a 3-year-old. Should be interesting. I was on good behavior and didn’t mention that yesterday.)

I’ve never had the luxury of liking a principal; it might take a while to get used to. We walked to the school lobby after the meeting and stood chatting for a while. He motioned to the blank walls and talked about his plans to cover them with big, beautiful photos of kids. And huge word murals with favorite lines from books.

I looked around and realized the gingham is all gone and finally, I felt like I could breath.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome, public school by Amysilverman

8 Responses to “Don’t Hate Me Because My Kid’s Principal is So Freaking Awesome”

  1. Hip Hip Hooray!!

  2. A day to clap and shout and cheer! It is going to be a wonderful school year!

  3. Wow wow wow! Simply amazing! So happy for you and Sophie.

  4. I’m curious (and it doesn’t matter either way, what an awesome man), I wonder if he has someone with Ds in his life? Although I believe there are many, many people out there dedicated to helping without a personal connection, it almost sounds like his efforts come from someplace special…

    I’m thrilled for you and look forward to hearing more about Sophie’s year. We’re just starting our public school journey with my guy in kindergarten.

  5. Great news, Amy. So happy to hear this.

  6. good question, jaida — i don’t know the answer but i’m guessing i’ll find out. and good luck with kindergarten! i bet you’ll have an awesome year.

  7. He sounds AMAZING!! And it’s about time!

  8. Sophie is simply amazing! Great news Amy.

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My Heart Can't Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome is available from Amazon and 
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