At 14, St. Al’s principal for a day rules

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Not two hours into Sam Andrews’ reign as principal of St. Aloysius, his first interviewer arrived.

He led his visitor into Michele Townsend’s office and sat down in a metal chair reserved for students.

“Shouldn’t you be in that chair, Mr. Principal?” the visitor asked.

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“Ooh, that’s Miss Townsend’s chair,” he said staring at the reclining leather office chair. “I’ve never sat in that chair.”

Then he changed seats. “Yeah, this is nice.”

Sam, 14, the son of Ronnie and Sharon Andrews, was the seventh-grade class president and now is the eighth-grade class president of Vicksburg Catholic School, but on this Tuesday, his role expanded to principal of the high school, which includes students in seventh through 12th grades.

As part of a school fundraiser, the position of principal for the high school and St. Francis Xavier Elementary, were up for bid, and Sam’s mother won.

Gray Houser, a fourth-grader at the elementary school, will be that school’s principal on Thursday. The two were supposed to coincide, but a Tuesday field trip to see World War II aircraft at Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport kept Gray out of class.

Eleven years ago, Gray was born 4 months prematurely and weighed only a pound. He spent four months at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. “They saved his life,” said his mother, Courtney Houser.

Gray has appeared on radio and television as part of the Children’s Miracle Network and has an appearance scheduled for Thursday on Live from the Klondyke radio program on 1490 AM.

But, like Sam on Tuesday, on Thursday, he will be the boss.

“I think it will be really cool,” said Gray, 11, whose father is Bob Houser.  “I get to make a lot of rules.”

His first will be for all teachers to wear school uniforms, too. The second “secret rule” is designed specifically for his fourth-grade class. That second rule will make him the most popular fourth-grader in the school, he promises.

As far as wielding his power, Gray could get some advice from Sam as to how things run.

Sam’s day began as the first morning light began filtering through overcast skies. Dressed in perfectly ironed khakis, white button-down shirt, black tie with a gold pattern and a dark sports coat partially hiding his nametag — Sam Andrews, St. Aloysius Principal — he greeted students as they arrived at school shortly after 7.

“Some of them shook their heads, some laughed and some were rejoicing,” Sam said. He read morning announcements, including his rules for the day.

• All teachers caught talking on cell phones or texting will forfeit their phone to the principal.

• An untucked teacher’s shirt will result in after-school detention.

“I have to be careful with the power,” said Sam, a self-described 80-year-old in a 14-year-old’s body. “What comes around, goes around so I have to really watch what I do today. Tomorrow it is back to a normal day.”

Some staff asked him for a raise, which he could not authorize, but he did teach the school a lesson in fiscal responsibility. He had the chance to order any meal from any restaurant.

“I picked Fox’s pizza,” Sam said. “I wanted to save the school money. I didn’t want them to have to raise tuition.”

Teachers had few problems with their new principal.

“Would he make a great principal? The heck with principal, he would make a great president,” said Mike Jones, a longtime teacher and coach at the school.

David Wood, a substitute teacher, added, “They could not have picked a better person to be principal of this school. He is a keeper.”

Sam spent nearly an hour in a meeting, during which time Townsend reclaimed her office.

“I was very impressed with Sam this morning. He greeted students, showed attentiveness at our administrative team meeting and was very involved,” Townsend said. “He did a great job … then he booted me out of my own office.”

Sam spent the rest of the day making surprise visits to classrooms. He ate lunch with the faculty and attended an afternoon staff conference. His last act as principal was to “scold” two faculty members caught in violation of the tucked-in-shirt rule. No teachers were caught in violation of the cell phone policy.

“He took it very seriously and acted like a real principal,” said his 12-year-old sister, Sarah Ruth, who was in one of the seventh-grade classes Sam monitored. “He was very responsible.”

Contact Sean P. Murphy at