Sitting in the “big office” at Story Intermediate School, new principal David Richardson said although he is right where he needs to be, he never considered becoming a school principal, or even a teacher.
Having graduated Stephen F. Austin University with a bachelor's degree in psychology, Richardson, 42, told the Herald-Press Friday he thought he was well on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a school psychologist – but life got in the way.
With a growing family in need of support, Richardson spent a short time working for Child Protective Services, before becoming a second-grade teacher in Frankston, the town in which he was born and raised.
“I absolutely fell in love with teaching,” Richardson said. “I stayed in Frankston for two years, but loved teaching so much, I wanted to go to a bigger school district.”
Richardson applied with Palestine Independent School District, and PISD spokesperson Larissa Loveless, who was Story's principal at the time, said she hired him on the spot.
“It was readily apparent Mr. Richardson had great insight into the kids,” Larissa told the Herald-Press. “He has an ability to read a child, both emotionally and educationally.”
Having taught third, fifth, and seventh grades for PISD, Richardson was moved to the position of vice-principal of Southside School four years ago.
Although administration is quite different from teaching, Richardson said the core component of putting students and their parents before all else remains the same.
“I'm a father,” he said. “I know that if I have to call my child's principal for any reason, I want that person to know that I'm calling about the most important thing in my life. I keep that in mind when parents call me.”
Richardson takes over the reins as principal from Jamie Clark, who left Palestine after last school year. Richardson was Clark's vice-principal her last year with Story, and said he learned a great deal from his predecessor.
“She had such a great energy,” he said. “She had a constant involvement in her students' lives; I'd love to be able to follow in her footsteps with that.”
Consistency is the key, Richardson said, to making a large school like Story manageable for faculty, staff, and students alike.
“Story houses fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students,” he said. “Each grade has its own vice-principal, who moves up with the students. For example, the vice-principal of fourth grade this year will become the vice-principal of fifth grade next year.”
Using this technique, Richardson said, students feel less overwhelmed by the size of the school – and the student body – which is roughly 700.
Richardson credits his teachers and administrative staff for maintaining order every day.
“You couldn't manage a place of this size without good leaders,” he said. “You need to have a trusted leadership team, and I am lucky enough to have the best team you could imagine.”
Having risen from a small-town second grade teacher to principal of a school with 700 students, more than 80 on faculty and staff – not to mention more than 1,000 parents with whom he said he does his best to be familiar, Richardson said he could not be happier with where his life has taken him.
“I'm where I need to be,” he said. “When I was younger, if you told me I'd be sitting here today, I wouldn't believe you. Today, however, I can spend the rest of my career right here, doing this, and I couldn't possibly be happier.”