NORWAY— High-fives down the halls, implementing safety protocols after the wake of national school tragedies, energy, humor, calling each of the Guy Rowe Elementary School’s 500 students by name during his 13-year tenure; there were many things Principal George Sincerbeaux will be remembered for.
An endless, tireless presence popping in and out of classrooms not the least. On Jan. 5, Sincerbeaux announced his plan to retire at the end of the school year.
There’s a tenderness etched in the mustached face of the former military man. Unanticipated, the smile on the six-foot-two Sincerbeaux, hair cropped in military fashion, welcomes students as he bounces down the hall. If his appearance seems gruff, his demeanor is anything but; a quick, bright word or joke, one of small countless conversation’s he’ll have with students – his children, he calls them, and there’s a smile left behind in his wake.
He does not like sitting. An aura of energy hovers around him, and he seems to hum and vibrate in his least favorite position – at rest. He confides he’d rather be walking around the school, talking with students, participating in classes, anything that brings him closer to his passion: Students.
‘A good day for me is when I’m not sitting in the office,’ Sincerbeaux says.
Carrie Underwood framed photos perched atop a radiator, and a Dr. Seuss hat rests on a book shelf; this is the domain of a man who gets to school hours before doors open so he can file paperwork – ever increasing, in time to greet students as they get off the bus.
Shaven and wearing a tie his daily attire – is something of a well-accustomed costume for Sincerbeaux: he eagerly anticipates letting his beard grow in retirement.
After 40 years in education, he says it’s about time.
‘I love what I do; I love the kids, I love the staff,’ Sincerbeaux says.
‘It’s time for a new generation to move in and take over…I’m an old man, I’ve been doing it before there was MEA, [Maine Educational Association standardized testing], my style is different,’ he explained.
Aback the central office building overlooking the playground, Sincerbeaux’s office teems with life. Sitting in a black leather chair, he’s silhouetted by student artwork, pins, autographs, and photos, a vibrant cacophony of material on the walls too diverse for a simple taxonomy.
It’s fitting a man who’s lived a traveled life. A former teacher, guidance counselor, and principal for 24 years, Sincerbeaux has worked in Vermont, Aroostock County, and tells pointed, elaborate anecdotes of being a student in Russia in the Cold War era.
He did not imagine himself a principal when attending Norwich University, a military college in Vermont. Like his parents, he thought he’d become a doctor.
‘They told me to be a doctor you had to be good in chemistry, good in Latin, and have bad hand writing. Well, I only fit the bill on one of those three – bad hand writing.’
After counseling and teaching in Vermont, Sincerbeaux came to Guy Rowe at the behest of former SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman, ‘My mentor,’ who he met in 1982 while working in Aroostock County.
‘I guess if I could say I’m successful in education it’s because of him. I try to emulate him.’
Eastman, he says, had a lasting impact on his leadership philosophy.
‘If a staff member does something good you praise them. If a staff member makes a mistake you close the door and tell them. Praise everyone else, don’t praise yourself. If you feel in your own mind you did a good job keep it to yourself and feel good about it. If you think someone else did, make sure everybody knows that.’
Retiring, ‘Beaux’, as acquaintances call him, leaves behind a school transformed during his time. National tragedies shaped Sincerbeaux’s outlook on teaching. The school shooting at Columbine in Colorado woke him up to a growing reality; school was increasingly shifting focus, becoming more about safety than education.
‘Our job is to protect them. If you ask anyone about me, I’m like a pitbull when it comes to security and safety in this school. Every kid in this school -470 – are my grandkids. I’m going to guard them. It used to be your job was to educate people; now it’s to make them safer, because if you’re afraid then you can’t have an education.’
‘I have a bullet proof vest. The police department gave it to me because of my military background. They said you might as well have it because we know you’re not going to get out of the way. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’ What’s that tell you?’
Walking through the halls, walkie-talkie clipped to his hip, he outlines the series of locked doors, cameras, and alarms that have become a part of the daily routine here. The school practices security training he’s worked to hard implement, and a serious, even grave expression descends lines his face; but if it’s the first time he’s looked old, there’s a look of fierce defiance about him.
‘Our job is to make sure they never get in here.’
He stops a few times to get more information about a leaky toilet, or check in on a student with behavioral issues having a bad day. For someone who prowls the school making sure doors are secured, there’s a vacuum of detail about retirement. Sincerbeaux says he likes to golf, hunt, and read – ‘I inhale books,’ – and he’s especially looking forward to spending more time with his two grandchildren. His vagueness directly disproportional because his thoughts are committed to the present: Sincerbeaux loves his job, and talks more about the school and his students when asked questions about himself.
Sincerbeaux, it seems, will not quit until he’s officially done. If then.
The image of a man obsessed with security doesn’t do justice to the principal who handwrites birthday cards to every student, who praises students with ‘Ta Da’ achievement awards, who wants to abolish the mentality that principals only hand out punishment to students. Someone, asked what elementary students can teach adults, who responds, ‘Life!’