Assistant Principal Sashi Govin has been in the job at Canton High School for only about two months, but she learned that there were some families in need. Before Christmas, she notified the school superintendent, and some school staff quietly donated food and gift cards to the families.
Govin, who has a background in psychology and counseling, uses that training daily. Students, teachers and parents who stop by her office are greeted with a sign on the door that says, "Attitude is Everything."
She puts that into practice when dealing with students who cross her path. "If you know a kid is lying openly, calling him a liar in front of his friends is not going to work," she says. You have to let the student maintain his or her dignity.
Recently, after two seniors were caught throwing nuts and carrot sticks in the cafeteria, they were sent to her office. Rather than relegating them to assigned seats, she told them she wanted to talk to all of the seniors involved. The next day, they all came to her office and ate lunch with her. She told them that for the next week, she wanted them to pick different seats, with the understanding that if there was no more food throwing they could go back to sitting with their friends. There was no more trouble.
Govin, married 33 years and the mother of two adult children, has quickly become part of the school community. The West Hartford resident is a visible presence at school concerts and events.
"Staff members appreciate how available she is. When I'm there, there always seems to be a line of staff members waiting to see her," Superintendent Kevin Case says. "People feel she's been very responsive. When they've had issues concerning their children, she's very good at communicating with them."
Govin got her bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology in her native India and began her career as a social worker, working mostly with preteens and adolescents. She worked as a therapist in a residential treatment facility, counseling children who had been severely emotionally harmed, "where years of therapy doesn't undue the damage."
She wanted to help children before they got to that point, which led her to become an educator. She tested the waters in education by running an in-school suspension program at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford and felt she reached some students.
After receiving her certification to teach through the Alternate Route to Teacher Certification (ARC) program, she taught seventh-grade social studies at Sedgwick for eight years. She has completed her coursework for an educational leadership doctoral program at the University of Hartford.
On of the highlights from her teaching career came much later, when a former student approached her one evening as she stood at the train station in New Haven waiting to take the train into New York. The tall, unkempt, tattooed, young man with a backpack and guitar approached her and asked, "Were you not my teacher in middle school?" Jack proceeded to tell her about his life as they road the train to Grand Central Station. When they got off the train, he waited with Govin until her husband got there.
"I was so touched with his good citizenship. This was a student I had [had]
so many days in in-school suspension, detentions after school, etc.," she says. "Here was a young man who, by society's standards, didn't look successful. He did not go to college or look presentable, but he surely is a great human being. He felt the need to make sure that I was safe. The more I think about Jack, the more I feel that as an educator, I was in some way able to positively shape his character."
She became an administrator, she says, because she felt she could have an impact on a larger group of students. For the past five years, she was the assistant principal at Cutler Middle School in Mystic section of Groton.
In Canton, in addition to dealing with misbehaving students, Govin has been assigned other administrative duties. Fluent in three languages, she is overseeing the World Languages Department, which lacks a department chair. "That's a department we're working hard to improve," Case says.
Govin says she's been struck by how receptive the teachers have been and how focused they are on the students.
"My experience with high school teachers [elsewhere] is they're very content focused," she says. "I've found teachers here are willing to go above and beyond and do what's best for the student."
She also plans to augment the high school orientation program eighth graders receive, so that they can meet the guidance counselors, Principal Gary Gula and Govin before they attend the orientation.
Govin's goals for her students relate to citizenship more than academic achievement. "I would like them to develop into socially responsible adults. … I want them to be civic-minded, to look outside the confines of school and reach out – to be the future "Doctors Without Borders" and UN Peacekeepers," she says. "It's not just service, but being responsible for themselves. Character is what you do when nobody's watching."
Case says Govin has lived up to the comments made by teachers, administrators, parents and students in her former district. "Everyone talked about her ability to establish relationships with people," he says. "They said she was a good listener, a good problem solver and was good at helping remove obstacles that might be in a person's way."
Govin has been visible and approachable. "The addition of Sashi Govin has strengthened our administrative team at the high school," Case says. "I want her to be part of the Canton administrative team for many years to come."
Editor's Note: The writer served as a parent representative on the screening committee that selected Sashi Govin as one of the finalists for the position. The final decision to offer her the position was made by the superintendent and the Board of Education.