There's something about Stephen Goodwin that parents at Sprague School should know right from the start. His shoes won't be shiny or new. They'll be perhaps a bit muddy if the weather was wet, they'll definitely be well worn and they'll be perfect for a quick pick-up game at recess.
There's something else they should know about the man who will take over as principal of the school on July 1.
He comes from a family dedicated to public service and is serious about improving the lives of children.
"I love public education. I love working with kids. I love trying to make a difference in their lives," Goodwin said recently.
Dr. Stephen Goodwin was hired in February from the Lynch School in Winchester by Superintendent Bella T. Wong after an intense selection process that included much input from the Sprague School community. Parents packed public interview sessions with the finalists and sent upwards of 120 letters to Wong in support of Goodwin. When current Principal Donna Dankner was hired, only six people showed for the public interview.
When Wong announced that Dankner would not be back for a fourth year, parents immediately got involved in the search for a new leader with a lot of energy.
And after meeting Goodwin, there was an immediate feeling that he was the right candidate.
"I think his energy and dynamism were the initial things that jumped out," said Margaret Lyne, one of two Sprague parents on the selection committee. "He wanted to be part of our school and he wanted the kids to run into school with high fives for him. I got the sense he would shovel the snow, greet the kids, get down on the floor when needed to interact and would let every child know that he or she is special by being part of the community."
That sense of community is something Goodwin takes very seriously. One of the first things he'll do once he settles into his new office will be to strap on his helmet and start riding his bicycle around the Sprague school district to get to know the neighborhoods and the kids.
He'll also start stressing his core values, to work hard at all times and to be kind, friendly and respectful to all.
"We need to get along with each other," he said. "You don't have to be best friends, but you have to be kind and friendly toward one another. That's non-negotiable."
Students will also be expected to work hard, to "bring their A game" to school everyday. It's a lesson he learned from his football coach at Bates College, from which he graduated in 1992.
"It's something that I find really resonates with people," he said. "Everyday, no matter what you're doing, do your best, bring your A game," he said.
At last Tuesday's School Committee meeting where he was formally introduced, Goodwin said that was one thing he could promise.
"I will work the hardest I can everyday on behalf of the kids, that's what I can and will do," he said.
After Bates, Goodwin received a masters degree in special education from Fitchburg State College, a second masters degree in educational leadership from Framingham State College and a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Boston College. His thesis researched how students in 3rd, 4th an 5th grades become better writers.
His love of public education and public service comes directly from his parents, he said. He spent most of his youth in Waltham, where his father is still a beloved social studies teacher at the high school, and his mother works at the Robert Treat Paine Estate. He has two sisters who also work in public service.
Goodwin has spent his career in education as a teacher, special education coordinator, assistant principal and principal. But his promotions out of the classroom haven't stopped him from still teaching a reading group each year, something he said he'll continue at Sprague.
In fact, creating relationships with the kids and building community is something he feels strongly about and something the Sprague parents crave.
He hopes to start an annual 5th grade vs. faculty basketball game next year, "if I can get some allies." He said in Winchester it was one of the most anticipated nights of the year where the students and teachers can loosen up and have some fun together. He's also ready to play the flag football game he donated to the Sprague auction.
"We did have a number of very qualified, good candidates for the position," said Windsor Ferrarra, also a Sprague parent representative on the principal search committee.
"But what I was looking for, and what I was mindful of as I listened to the various candidates, was which one would most inspire my four children, which one would really connect with my kids," she said.
"I really think he is the kind of person who my kids will remember and talk about for the rest of their lives," she said.