Jim Costigan, 
St. Thomas

Judy Irwin

Jim Costigan has no outside meetings scheduled and is looking forward to catching up on other work.
When he arrives at school, however, there is no sign of the vice-principal, who usually arrives earlier. A quick check of voice-mail confirms that he is ill. Costigan is now also responsible for the vice-principal’s duties, from staffing issues to student discipline.
No time to stop and think. Classes at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in St. Thomas start at 8:30. It’s time for Principal Costigan to get out in the halls to check in with staff, then greet the arriving students.
"Have you seen Mr. X yet?" asks one teacher, barely a minute later. Mr. X is away unexpectedly, and there’s a quick scramble to identify a staff member to cover his classes for the day.
The hallways are getting busy. Costigan positions himself in the main hall; it’s his goal to know all the faces, if not the names, of the more than 650 students in his school.
"Hey, Mr. Johnson!" Costigan calls. "How’s it going?"
"Pretty good, Mr. Costigan!" the student replies with a smile. Costigan spots another student with a basketball, and they banter about who would win a game between them.
A pair of tongue-tied Grade 9 students blush with pleasure to be singled out for some friendly attention. It’s important to Costigan to help new students feel they belong, which takes extra effort this year. Enrolment has grown, and nearly one- third of the school population is in Grade 9.
The bell rings, and Costigan briskly tours the halls, gently but firmly admonishing the last-minute stragglers: "Time to hurry up, ladies and gents — you can tell the rest of your life history at lunch."
Once the halls are clear, Costigan checks in with picture day in the cafeteria. He greets the photographers and praises the students who are running the event. On the way out, Costigan spots a broken glass pane in one of the cafeteria doors. He turns to the students waiting in line: "Anyone know who did this?" They all shake their heads, although there is some muttering about suspected candidates.
"I’m sure we’ll find out soon," says Costigan. "Kids in this school are pretty good about telling us."
Costigan returns to his office for meetings with department heads. Things seemed to be running smoothly, but there’s some discussion about helping staff adjust to the challenges of increased enrolment.
At the end of a meeting, one of the administrative staff sticks her head in the door. Costigan is not bothered by interruptions, and likes to be accessible. His door is usually open during meetings. "There are some parents here who’d like to speak with you," she says.
The parents don’t look happy. Costigan speaks with them in private, this time with a closed door. They have a complaint about the way in which a staff member has spoken to their son. After they leave, Costigan is puzzled and a bit frustrated.
"What they describe is just completely out of character for this staff member," he says. Based on the boy’s history, he suspects the parents have been fed a story.

Then it’s time to head back into the hall for period change and more chatting with students. While roaming the halls, Costigan makes friendly, but pointed, comments about school uniform infractions. At the request of the school council, most of whom are parents, St. Joseph’s implemented a school uniform last year. Some of the older students try to rebel against the dress code, often by claiming their uniforms are on back order. As a 30-year veteran of high school life, Costigan views these excuses with some amusement.
A school tour is interrupted by reports of unsavory characters out back — former students with police records who like to hold court on school property. Costigan hurries to the back lot. About 20 teens surround the two young men. Costigan politely but firmly tells them to leave: "You don’t belong here."
The group begins to disperse and Costigan returns inside. On the way, he points out one of the girls who had been standing with the young men. "She’s always been such a sweet girl, but now she’s in this crowd. It breaks your heart," he says. Costigan’s daughter is the same age.
Next up: the cafeteria. Costigan likes to spend the first month of school in the cafeteria while the junior grades have lunch. He walks up and down the aisles, holding out a tray for the students to place their garbage. Although Costigan cares about cleanliness — he constantly picks up litter from the hallways — the tray functions more as a bridge to allow him to chat and joke with the students while learning to recognize their faces.
When junior lunch finishes, it’s time for Costigan’s lunch. He just sits down in the staff room when he’s called away. One student had pushed another into a puddle. Costigan talks to the teens but chooses not to come down hard on the boy who did the pushing. He suspects the other boy started the argument.
Just as Costigan returns to the staff room, the fire bell emits an ear-splitting screech. The school is empty in about three minutes. Students huddle together outside, waiting for the fire department. Puzzled teachers approach Costigan: Is this a drill?
Firefighters find the answer: burned toast in the cafeteria set off the alarm. Costigan shakes his head. More than half an hour has passed since the fire alarm, and valuable class time has been lost.
After students are back in class, Costigan returns to the office. He returns some phone calls, most of which involve trying to solve a problem. When he comes out of his office, four students are waiting for discipline, mostly for disrupting their classes. One boy is a wide-eyed Grade 9 student who was accused of surfing pornographic sites on the school’s computer. The allegation later proves to be false.
Costigan reprimands the boys, but in a friendly tone. "It’s often just enough of a scare to send them down here," he says.
There isn’t much time to talk, however. The earlier troublemakers are out back of the school again. Students say a fight is brewing.
As soon as Costigan appears outside, the lead youth becomes agitated. "I wasn’t (expletive) doin nothin," he says, "I was just talking to some chick and this (expletive) dude came up and said he was gonna kick my (expletive)."
"Did he hit you?" Costigan asks calmly. The teen shakes his head. "Well, I don’t know what happened, but I do know you’re not supposed to be here. Now please leave."
Costigan watches until the youth and his friend walk away. The timing is good, as students are filing in for the next class and the troublemakers have lost their audience. On the way back into school, Costigan comments on the teen’s obvious drug use. "We may need to call the police," he says.
Back in the office, everyone wants a bit of Costigan’s time. A teacher pops in to complain about the students he had sent to the office. One of the office staff tells Costigan that a student had been rude to the photographer doing school photos — should the boy be brought into the office? Costigan also learns that the mother of the boy accused of pornographic Internet surfing believes he’s innocent and wants to talk to Costigan about it.
Then a head pops in his office door: "Jim, now the intruders are in the school." And so they are — sauntering down the hallways as if they own the place. Costigan firmly tells them to get out. But now it’s time to call the police.
The police arrive quickly, but by then there is no sign of the youths. One student comes forward. "They’re hiding in the bushes in the back," she says.
The arrest takes place just as school is getting out, right in front of all the students. Costigan looks on with some satisfaction. "I’m glad all the students are watching this," he says. "It tells them that we will deal with this kind of behaviour, and that we are going to keep them safe."
Back in the office, he asks staff for the name of the girl who helped them find the teens. "I want to thank her personally. That was really super of her."
Later, Costigan and the staff laugh about the events of the day. "Having a day there, boss?" ribs one teacher. The arrests are particularly unusual. St. Joseph’s is in a rural setting, serving mostly families from St. Thomas, a mid-sized town 20 minutes from London.
Costigan winds up his day by reviewing paperwork, e-mail and voice-mail. He’s eaten about two bites of salad in his 10-hour day, yet his energy remains unflagging. And there’s still an evening retirement party for a former superintendent. Costigan is the last to leave the school and locks up the offices.
On the way out the door, he stops to pick up litter from the halls.

Jim Costigan
St. Joseph’s High School
London District Catholic School Board
Certified in 1973
Althouse College of Education, London

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