By: Frank Morin-Chartier
Cindy Schumaker-Young is a five-foot-six bodacious goddess of a woman whose two central beliefs are having fun and catering to people’s needs. These two elements mix creating a wonderfully dynamic personality that left me wondering how she applies these principles as a vice-principal of an elementary school.
Knowing Cindy for the past five years of my life made me question my ability to create an acceptably unbiased feature. I admit that our “professional” first impression was not very professional.
I begin my morning dreading the thought of a lot of new social interaction; seeing former teachers. I carry out my usual morning routine: stretch, yawn, crack my knuckles and wash-up. I remember that I’m going to an elementary school for the morning, so decide not to wear my “Let’s Summon Demons” t-shirt.
The ride into town from Napatak has me overthinking how to write this damn article. There’s a lot of second guessing and doubting myself. I’m not sure if it will go properly. I bring a microphone for recording, but have problems with my iPhone AUX adapter… this is just the way my life swings. I’m always expecting something to go horribly wrong.
I pull up to Cindy’s suburban house and a white Hyundai pulls out of the asphalt driveway and quickly speeds off. This is Cindy: my interview subject and my ride. She halts the brakes and tosses her head back in laughter. I use the little bit of early morning energy I have to jog around to the passenger door. Exhausted, I get into the vehicle with a laugh. Cindy attempts to stifle her laughter. Her rosy red cheeks displaying her happiness and warmth, so early in the morning. “Sorry, Fronk! It’s my ‘mom-brain.’ I either remember everything or I forget nothing.” Cindy refers to me as Fronk. It’s been her nickname for me since becoming close friends with her daughter, Katie. I have zero idea where it originated, but it certainly stuck. Cindy shifts into 1st gear and drives off down Studer Street.
As Cindy shifts gears, there’s a thrilled smile across her face. She’s glowing in the moment, loving the fact that she’s having some fun. Cindy is currently in the vice-principal role at Gordon Denny Community School. She starts explaining to me what her morning is going to be like: she has a logistics meeting, followed by planning time for renovations. Cindy wants to make upgrades to the school’s library. The renovations will (hopefully) take place over the summer. It’s something Cindy has been planning for for a while.
As a part-time consultant, Cindy will go to other schools in the Northern Lights School Division, to make suggestions to improve the graduation rate, attendance and reading levels of students in the North. “In Northern Lights’ last year, we still have less than fifty percent of our students at grade level in reading. …there was thirty-one percent from the first to sixth [grade] at grade level. It’s now up to eighty-three percent at graduated levels.”
Cindy coaches teachers on how to teach reading, while maintaining her already busy position at Gordon Denny. This keeps her very busy. Every morning starts early during the week. “So, that’s why my house looks like a gong show.”
I attended Gordon Denny, and remember Cindy as a special education teacher. She’s now stepped into the role of vice-principal. A disciplinary figure. Moving from ‘spec ed’ was an easy move. She says she was fed up with the way it was dealt with. So, Cindy decided she would do better. She started taking classes and got her Master’s degree in Teacher’s Leadership. The vice-principal position came up and she applied and got the job. “It’s busy, but I like it.”
We roll up to Gordon Denny and park at the very front. Cindy pops the trunk and I help her take in some bags full of groceries. Something pink catches my eye. Cindy is holding a pink pair of size 4 children’s shoes. Cindy explains that, “a student stole another girls shoes”, so Cindy went out and bought her a new pair in her size.
Cindy’s office is strewn with what she likes to call, “clutter”: various papers, tubs of well-worn literacy board games, charts, an AC unit, numerous poop emoji plushies and a homemade needle point poop emoji with the words I Am The Queen below it.
Cindy and I make our way into Principal Scott Hepworth’s office to use the Tassimo coffee-maker. Scott enters, breakfast in hand. Scott settles in as Cindy begins to discuss logistics. “Can I eat my egg, please?” Scott asks. Cindy reclines in her chair, which seems to be a power move, and starts discussing her ideas for the new library renovations. The reorganization of the space will help kids increase workflow and productivity. Cindy wants to repaint, add new flooring and build new standing-desks. Scott saws at the egg inside a soup container with a fork and knife.
As people pile into the building, Cindy walks around to “harass” her many students and co-workers. Every person she interacts with leaves with a smile on their face. She brightens an already sunny morning.
Bruce, a contractor, arrives to help determine if the dream renovations are possible for the Gordon Denny library. Cindy is set on her ideas, believing they will change the school for the better. The idea of renovating has clearly been percolating in her head for a while. The school’s new librarian, Joyce Kidd, was very supportive and vocal in the exchange of new ideas. It feels to me like a genuine collaborative effort with the students’ best interest in mind. The library looks the same as I remember it when I was a student at Gordon Denny- except for a computer lab which now sits within the entrance. After talking for forty-five minutes, Bruce decides to go to his boss to see if these proposed changes can be made over the summer. Cindy feels this is well-deserved victory.
To celebrate, Cindy opens a fresh container of vegan cocoa butter. This is a new diet trick she learned while going through her “mid-life crisis”, which also included re-piercing her ears with her daughter. She sits down, kicks her feet up, and works on expense reports from her consultant visits. Every so often, a spoonful of the butter enters her mouth.
The recess bell rings and kids flood the hallways. They rush into the ‘boot room’ and search for their shoes, then rush outside to let loose and burn off the energy that’s built up from being cooped up inside. Cindy opens her office door and we chat. She’s waiting for one of her young female students to arrive. The girl is to report to Cindy’s office because of some sort of incident on the playground. The little girl enters with spunk. She seems very much willing to be here and participate in an interview with me. She turns to me with a smile and says, “I’m one of her favourites,” Flashing a toothy grin. With this, she decides to try her luck and ask for some Ritz crackers that sit near the AC unit. Cindy shakes her head. It’s a no.
“There’s no reason to give children positive reinforcement when they’re in trouble. It doesn’t help anything.”
The little girl tells me her birthday is approaching and her family is going to take her and some friends into the city for the weekend to swim and see movies and stay in a big hotel. When Cindy asks what she wants for her birthday, replies right away with a sadness in her voice: “My dad.” Cindy sends her out, but invites her to come back after school for “Ritz & Spitz.”
Another girl enters who is also being kept in at recess with Cindy. She has one of the school’s iPads with her. Cindy brings her in and takes the iPad, putting it out of reach on top of some plastic bins. Cindy asks the little girl to remember why she’s here and what she did. Cindy tries to make her remember with verbal cues, but can’t. Cindy tells her she’s inside at recess all week because of playground violence. This little girl was apparently punching, pulling and pushing other students on the playground. Cindy, being a calm authoritative type, assures the girl that stakes will have to be raised if she keeps her bad behaviour up. “No one will want to be your friend if you hit them. Everyone has conflict.” It was very nurturing, an offering of support to a child in a way she could understand it. Sincere and real.
After recess ends, we sit and chat once again. Now there’s another knock on her door. Another little girl, wearing the pink shoes Cindy had pulled from her trunk earlier, smiling while looking at her feet. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Young!” She seems on top of the world.
Cindy believes in teaching those who want to be taught and treating her school like a business. It’s a different format from what I’ve seen in school management. When explaining it to me, Cindy says: “think of me as the CEO and my job is to keep everything moving and going smoothly. The students are my clients,” she continues the analogy, “we have to provide to their needs, not [the needs of] teachers. The way that I lead [has led to] some issues with the older teachers, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
It’s amazing to compare the Cindy I know with the professional at work. She’s a one of a kind who I hope continues to inspire and lead her school to success. She’s just as fun, hilarious, smart, beautiful and driven at work as I know her to be and in any situation, she’s the boss lady.