It’s 11:30 a.m., and students are pouring out of Hellgate High School, headed to lunch. In front of the Big Dipper, a group of seniors resplendent in Goth garb and black Marilyn Manson shirts ruminates on the differences between this year and last. Not much has changed, they say, other than the loss of former Principal Cheryl Wilson and the arrival of replacement Jane Bennett. This group doesn’t look like the sort to heap praise on the administration, but they agree Wilson will be missed.
“She was really cool,” says Dustin. “She could really relate to us.” None in the group have met Bennett yet; over the summer, Mara received a letter from Bennett congratulating her on her previous year’s rising grades, but needed prompting from the other students to remember if the new principal was a woman or a man.
Inside the high school, Bennett sits in a chair with the tag still attached. It’s a loaner, say says; she’s ordered a new one in school colors. She’s already met with dozens of students, teachers and parents, but knows that “most of the students walking down the hall wonder who I am.”
“The out-going principal was outstanding and popular with both students and faculty,” she says.
But Bennett is convinced that her style isn’t a departure from Wilson’s. In fact, it was conversations with Wilson about the school’s personality that convinced her to move from Ann Arbor, Mich., to head Hellgate.
“Everyone who has said anything to me about Hellgate has always mentioned that the students take pride in being diverse and open-minded toward solving problems,” says Bennett. “That doesn’t make my job harder or easier, just more interesting, more fun.”
The students gathered at the Big Dipper picnic table agree that Hellgate is uniquely accepting of a diverse student body, but still have reservations about the new principal.
“I’ve got to admit that I don’t have much faith [in Bennett],” says Vern, wiping braids out of his face. “When compared to Cheryl.”