West Salem High School

This is mainly about Ed John.

I must start by saying that the current principal will do a fantastic job. Ken Phillips is intentional and committed. He is not there to climb some career ladder; he did not take the position as an ego trip. He cares about students and cares about leading a top-tier school. I am convinced that he will do a remarkable job of leading, building, and propelling the school ever forward.

But let me get back to Ed John. I want to share three observations. I do not know if Mr. John intended these things, but I continually noticed them, and I suspect that if they were so apparent, they were intentional.

First, it seemed to me that Mr. John had a clear, specific, laser-focused vision for the school. Nothing is as important as a clear, focused vision. And nothing is harder to come by.

Mr. John’s vision seemed to be: To create a positive atmosphere. It seemed to me that almost everything he did was towards that end. From the way he interacted with students, to the people that he hired, to the day-to-day decisions that he made. He seemed to choose to be governed by a singular purpose and stick tenaciously to that purpose.

And I doubt that he could have chosen a better purpose. The positive atmosphere that he strove to establish and maintain had a remarkable effect on the school. I can trace the school’s many successes back to that purpose. The students achieved impressive things; the athletes achieved impressive things; the teachers achieved impressive things; the band, choir, Mock Trial teams, drama department, service initiatives, etc all did impressive things. And all of those success came in a relatively short time; they were not built over decades or by a series of leaders with various strengths. Mr. John had no predecessor at West.

I heard a rumor during West’s first year. The rumor was that Mr. John had wanted and accepted the job at West because he wanted to establish an atmosphere and experience from the ground up, without having to fight or undo any unwanted traits or diverging missions that can creep in. His achievement in accomplishing that goal is as impressive as anything the rest of the school achieved. Although he would never say that. He deflected all praise, every bit of it, to those who worked for him.

The second noteworthy thing that I observed about Mr. John was the way he handled problems… which was: immediately, in person, and without getting upset. And the whole of his job often seemed to be handling problems. Student problems, personnel problems, parent problems, budget problems, community problems, facility problems, unexpected problems, etc. Such is the job of leadership. Anyone can guess the result of this: his staff and students trusted him. They knew they could go to him with any problem and leave his office, not feeling berated, but feeling capable and relieved. It also earned him a reputation for being patient, wise, fair, available, and someone who could help you resolve your problems and was in control of himself. It also was a powerful example to model.

The third thing I observed about Ed John was his remarkable skill at mentoring leaders. (He mentored Mr. Phillips.) Here are just two quick examples:

On Tuesday afternoons, during their lunch time, Mr. John would meet with his administrative staff, and he would often start the meeting by saying, “Well, only 12 more hours to go.” referring to how long the administrators would likely be at school each day. For administrators, there are always school events that need supervising, attending, leading. With his understated humor, Mr. John reminded them how demanding the job of administering the school can be, and at the same time reminded them that they can do it, that they are in it together, and to choose an intentional, positive attitude.

Here is another example that shows he was a master at mentoring leaders: The vast majority of his vice principals later became head principles, and usually in a very short amount of time. He would delegate to them, challenge them, and tell them they could do it when they felt anxious or in over their heads with some new responsibility. Each year, one of his vice principals would come to Mr. John and sheepishly say that they’d been offered a head principal job next year and might be leaving. And each time, Mr. John’s response would be, “Congratulations. You deserve it. How can I help you?”

He is tactful, wise, patient, experienced, skilled, and tireless. He did the small, unnoticed things—like learning the names of every student, greeting the students at the door each day, encouraging individual staff. And he did the big things—like handling major decisions, publicly celebrating staff, masterfully delegating. Watching him closely was a valuable class in leadership.

Plus, he is a fantastic person with a wonderful family.

I consider it an honor to know him, let alone to have worked for him.

Here’s to Ed John and West Salem High School and continued successes. We were, and continue to be, in good hands.

2 comments

  1. An absolutely beautiful, stirring tribute to a man of vision, purpose, and integrity, who was able to inspire and enlist others… a true leader. And I saw reflected in the words and on the page another man, much like Ed John: A man of passion, integrity, vision, purpose, and affirming words… A husband, father, teacher, brother, and son-extraordinaire, Mr. Grant Huhn. And he has been this way his entire life. Blessings, son, you are dearly loved

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