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An Administrator on the Move: Rolling Desk Keeps Richmond Associate Principal in the Thick of It

  • Students walk through the lobby of Richmond Middle School in Hanover while  Associate Principal Michael Lepene sits at his wheeled desk during the lunch hour last Thursday. Lepene rolls his desk around the school a couple of hours a week, one of several strategies he has implemented to circulate among students and staff.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Students walk through the lobby of Richmond Middle School in Hanover while Associate Principal Michael Lepene sits at his wheeled desk during the lunch hour last Thursday. Lepene rolls his desk around the school a couple of hours a week, one of several strategies he has implemented to circulate among students and staff. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richmond Middle School Associate Principal  Michael Lepene chats with students and staff as they walk by his wheeled desk in the school lobby.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Richmond Middle School Associate Principal Michael Lepene chats with students and staff as they walk by his wheeled desk in the school lobby. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richmond Middle School Associate Principal Michael Lepene wheels his desk out of the lobby.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Richmond Middle School Associate Principal Michael Lepene wheels his desk out of the lobby. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Students walk through the lobby of Richmond Middle School in Hanover while  Associate Principal Michael Lepene sits at his wheeled desk during the lunch hour last Thursday. Lepene rolls his desk around the school a couple of hours a week, one of several strategies he has implemented to circulate among students and staff.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Richmond Middle School Associate Principal  Michael Lepene chats with students and staff as they walk by his wheeled desk in the school lobby.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Richmond Middle School Associate Principal Michael Lepene wheels his desk out of the lobby.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Like a lot of school administrators, Michael Lepene started out as a classroom teacher. What many former teachers miss when they join a school’s front office is the constant interaction with students.

In his six years as associate principal at Hanover’s Richmond Middle School, Lepene has made a point of finding time to get out of his office. He spends time in classrooms. He runs an open gym every morning before school starts.

“I loved teaching,” said Lepene, a Franklin, N.H., native who taught high school science and math in Dover, N.H., and in Oregon after graduating from Dartmouth College. “I didn’t become an administrator because I wanted to get out of the classroom.”

Perhaps the most original innovation Lepene has deployed in his quest to circulate among Richmond Middle School’s 400 students is a desk on wheels. For at least a couple of hours each week, Lepene rolls his desk out into a hallway.

“Whenever I have something I need to do with this,” he said, pointing to a Chromebook laptop computer, “then I just go pick a random spot.” While he reads and answers emails, he talks with students passing by.

The rolling desk gives Lepene an uncommon way to be available to students and staff. “Part of the fun is to see the look of surprise on a kid’s face when he comes around the corner,” he said.

During a brief outing with the desk last Thursday, Lepene called to students by name, asking them about lunch offerings in the cafeteria. He had a photograph of his wife, Heather, and the older of his two sons, Matthew, on the desk, next to his computer. The Chromebook sports an Apple decal, a conversation starter for the school’s tech-savvy students.

An associate principal (what we used to call a vice principal) is often a school’s designated heavy, in charge of discipline. Lepene, still boyish at 36, wears that role lightly, and the rolling desk is part of his profile as a gentle cop on the beat.

“It’s about them thinking of me as an advocate or as a support for them,” Lepene said, rather than as an office to which students must answer for their bad behavior. Lepene also oversees the school’s scheduling and building and facilities, and works with teachers on staff development. “I’m here to make the teachers more effective,” he said.

Being out in the halls, even for short stretches, makes him more available to faculty and staff. Guidance counselor Liz McBain stopped to talk to Lepene about a program they were working on. “It’s really a positive thing for him to be so visible within our school,” she said later.

Lepene started his outings around the school by carrying a small desk. A custodian saw him struggling to move it and offered to fit casters to it.

Lepene’s desk signals a wider effort by administrators to be more visible and available in their schools. There are administrators who take part in a regular “no office day,” when they put aside email, phone messages and paperwork to circulate among students. All administrators, Lepene said, are trying to find a balance between all the things they need to do to keep their schools running and the daily interactions with students that make the job worthwhile.

The desk on wheels is a symbol in Richmond Middle School, at least to its occupant. Sometimes, Lepene said, it’s helpful to have a visual reminder of an important value.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.