Students Reflect on Stembridge’s Tenure

by Henry Blanchette, Freelance Editor
Photo Illustration by Emily Zhang

Principal Joel Stembridge announced that he accepted an offer to become the principal of Charlestown High School in Boston beginning this fall, bringing an end to his 11 years as principal at South.

“It has been an honor to serve the families and students in Newton,” Stembridge said in a May 8 letter to the school community. “It has been a privilege to champion and celebrate so many NSHS students from entering ninth graders through graduation and beyond.”

Senior South senator Coco L’Heritier said that Stembridge’s role as an administrator meant that students are often unaware of all his contributions behind the scenes.

“He’s a really hard worker, and he works well with the administration. There are a lot of things that he does behind the scenes to help South run properly,” she said. “There’s definitely some things that he does that we don’t even know.”

Beyond his tangible actions, junior Talia Raffel said that Stembridge’s empathy was evident.

“I could tell that he always cared about the well-being of the students and faculty,” she said.

Junior Ethan King said that he recognized Stembridge’s work ethic even though the two didn’t interact much one-on-one. He said that Stembridge’s prominent presence in the community will be missed.

“He’s been this beacon,” he said. “It just feels a little bit weird that he’s leaving because he’s always been there.”

English teacher Alan Reinstein said that Stembridge handled challenging and tragic moments particularly well

“[His] public responses to school crises and moments of sadness have shown elements of skillful leadership,” he said. “His words have revealed both intelligence and empathy, both necessary qualities to express during difficult times.”

Despite all the demands associated with his job, Stembridge said that he loved seeing how passionate the students were in their activities throughout his time at South.

“South is a really unique place. I love watching students participate in something they feel really great about,” he said.

The timing of Stembridge’s announcement, however, was critiqued by students. Stembridge’s announcement came shortly after the AP Chinese class was Zoom-bombed on April 15. L’Heritier said she was critical of the timing of Stembridge’s letter.

“It was just a bit odd to announce it during that time. The Zoom bombing for the AP Chinese class had just happened, and [we] were still dealing with that,” she said.

Senior senator Lucy Chae speculated that Stembridge’s decision could explain why the administration’s communication with the student body regarding the AP Chinese Zoom bombing was minimal.

In his letter, Stembridge acknowledged the unconventional timing of his statement relative to COVID-19 and virtual learning.

“It is a strange time to leave without having the opportunity to say goodbye, in person, to students and to their families, so many of whom I had the good fortune to get to know over the past 11 years,” he said.

Raffel said that although the timing of Stembridge’s letter wasn’t ideal, making this announcement remotely and during a pandemic was challenging in and of itself.

“He should have waited a little longer to make the announcement, but there’s not necessarily a perfect time to inform everyone,” she said.

Reinstein said he admired Stembridge’s ability to apologize publicly after making an error.

Stembridge said that one of his proudest accomplishments was fostering connections between the students and faculty.

“The most important relationships that happen at school occur between teachers and students,” he said. “Students having really great experiences with their teachers and their coaches, that’s what I’d like to be remembered for, creating that environment where those relationships can occur.”