HARWICH — Sam Hein’s father was a missionary in Africa, traveling from village to village teaching tribal elders to read and write. He told all of his pupils the same thing: when you’ve mastered the language, pass on those skills to another person. As principal at Harwich Elementary School, Hein draws a parallel between his father’s experience and his own 12 years of mentoring educators.
“When they can do it themselves, I sit back and say, ‘My job is done,’” he said.
Before the end of the current school year, Hein’s job will be done. He is retiring, having helped some of this year’s Monomoy High School graduating seniors when they were in first grade.
Hein is credited for bringing creativity and innovation to the school, but when he started work in 2006, he brought something else: stability. He heard that from students on his first day of work.
“They said I was the fourth principal in four years,” Hein recalled. “I’ll never forget it.”
It has been fun seeing elementary children grow up and move on to college, careers or the military, he said. One of the objectives of a good elementary education, beyond just preparing them academically for middle school, is to boost their self-confidence and instill a love of learning.
“The reason I got into education is I wanted to be in that molding phase,” Hein said.
A former physical education teacher, Hein taught and coached school football in New Orleans before meeting his wife and coming to live on the South Shore. He spent 16 years at the elementary school in Halifax, Mass., which was an autonomous school under a regional district. That experience left him well suited for his tenure in Harwich when the Harwich and Chatham schools merged to for Monomoy. Helping shape the school merger was a privilege, Hein said, and while the idea needed time to take hold with parents, community members and teachers, “the kids were the easiest part.”
But Hein’s first big challenge at Harwich Elementary happened before the merger, when the school system needed to adjust to changing enrollment by moving the fifth grade from the elementary school to Harwich Middle School. The shift was challenging, but ultimately it was necessary and beneficial to students, he said. As for the current debate about elementary school enrollment, Hein said he believes the communities should work toward a model where students from both towns attend pre-kindergarten through second grade at Harwich Elementary, and then attend third and fourth grade in Chatham. Such an arrangement would benefit the curriculum and would be better for helping children build social skills, Hein argued.
“Bottom line is, you build a community of learners,” regardless of whether the children are from Harwich or Chatham. “By the time they graduate, they’re one and the same,” he said.
In any event, Hein said he is confident that the school merger has been a success, and said the future for Monomoy is a bright one.
“This will be the prime district on the Cape,” he predicted.
Last year, Harwich Elementary launched an innovative program designed to improve students’ social, emotional and behavioral growth. Known as Positive Behavioral Incentives and Supports or PBIS, the program encourages staff members to praise students frequently for positive behavior, rewarding them with stickers and other incentives. Well-behaved students aren’t the only ones to get praise; students who make mistakes or misbehave receive fewer accolades but are still rewarded for making improvements. Hein credited Assistant Principal Mary Oldach for leading the initiative, which he said has been very successful.
Hein said he expects the school district to select as new principal by the middle of next month, and he hopes to be available through June to help with the transition.
What will he miss most about the job? The students, naturally. One of his favorite duties is to lead the morning announcements, which begins with the singing of the school song. A small group of students visit his office, crowding around his desk and reading the script from Hein’s computer. He praises each one, clearly relishing his time with them.
What will Hein do in his retirement? At just 57, he is young enough to continue in education as a mentor or interim administrator, but Hein said he has no plans to do so right away. Instead, he’ll focus on some hobbies that he finds mentally relaxing, like woodworking and landscaping. His two sons are building lives for themselves in the southern New England area, so he might remain in the area.
“It’s exciting to explore different ideas,” Hein said.