by BENJAMÍN RASCÓN GRACIA - Who is the real Stacy Mac, and what does she do?
WESTFIELD, Ind. (Nov. 2019) - The sun rises in the east. “Stacy Mac” rises in Westfield to bus duty in the mornings. Or sometimes she goes on a donut run for her kids. Or other times, she has meetings with parents. But what exactly does she do?
“A Day in the Life of Dr. McGuire” is a compilation of portions of her day throughout a week to show what her “typical day” looks like. Not only did I want to see what she did behind the scenes, but I wanted to learn the guiding principles behind our principal. This involved multiple interview sessions; every single meeting we had involved help from Mrs. Bonnie Vollmer, who always figured out a way for me to capture a portion of Dr. McGuire’s day.
This story began on Sept. 9 to discuss my vision with Dr. McGuire. As I arrived at the front office, I caught her on her way out to get congratulatory donuts for the Emergency Medical Services class, something she spontaneously does on occasion. We went back to her office and laid the blueprints for this piece.
[A few observations: First, Dr. McGuire is a practical woman and carries around Birkenstocks everywhere just in case she has to run. Second, there was a large green Big Hoffa’s cup on her desk--I wish I had asked more about this. Third, her room is covered in motivational books and photos from around the world.]
One of the first topics we touched on was graduation. I learned that during the cancellation, not only did some parents in the audience boo, but some also made physical and verbal threats against her. Others even went into the school and threatened the administration. I asked her how she dealt with this as the head of the school.
“If I were 16 and someone had said that to me, I would be in the fetal position,” she said. “To be a leader you have to have thick skin. Take your ego out of it.”
Most meetings, however, are not negative. Dr. McGuire has multiple meetings in a day relating to construction, attorneys, parents and staff members. On Sept. 12, I attended one of her construction meetings. The whiteboard had a “to-do” list, which focused on the art hallway development. Dr. McGuire went down the list while the rest of the men in the room explained where the development was on each piece.
Construction is not only a pain for students--it can be one for Dr. McGuire, too. The current $42 million investment is not one without challenges for the administration. Dr. McGuire often has Come to Jesus (CTJ) meetings when something just needs to get done after too much delay. For example, some art rooms were not finished, as some cabinets were broken.
I was surprised that a principal had to go down a list of individual materials for each room--it seemed so specific that it would be overwhelming. I was curious as to how her leadership style was in terms of delegation--how many school “specifics” did she have to know? How involved did she have to be in every decision?
Her method is profound and surprising.
Dr. McGuire shared with us that she does not believe in a pyramid hierarchy model; instead, she uses a “wheel” model. The purpose of the “leadership wheel” is that the leader, at the center of the wheel, does not need to know everything about everything: he or she simply needs to know enough about everything and then delegate. For example, she needs to know enough about sports to hire an Athletic Director, but her job is then to delegate and trust the Athletic Director with knowing everything else about athletics.
“You have to trust your people,” she said. “I hire people I trust and stick to my core values. My job a lot of times is to say yes or to find a way to make it a yes.”
That last part was particularly insightful. In Dr. McGuire’s leadership philosophy, leaders always have to “trust their people”--in other words, surround themselves with capable and valuable individuals they trust to do their jobs. It is not the job of a leader to do everything for everyone; the best thing a leader can do is empower others to solve their problems on their own.
A former biology teacher, Dr. McGuire is a science person and specializes in organization; she looks at the bigger picture. This includes her greatest role as principal: team-building. While she loves organization, hypothesizing, and future thinking, she builds teams to have balance in skill and personality.
As a principal, she also works with people outside of school, such as Superintendent Dr. Sherry Grate or other principals. On Sept. 13, I saw her work with both as she attended a meeting at Grand Park to discuss graduation details with Avon. When I walked into the Events Center, I was greeted by Dr. McGuire, and then Dr. Grate (who had just walked in). Dr. Grate complimented Dr. McGuire’s outfit.
“Thank you,” Dr. McGuire said. “My people take good care of me.” She winked.
At the meeting room, we sat with Grand Park officials and Avon High School administrators. The purpose of the meeting was to see if Westfield and Avon could use a similar set up for graduation and save money, since their ceremonies are only two days apart. Dr. McGuire began the meeting.
“I guess we’ve determined I cannot control the weather,” she said jokingly. “The main thing we’re looking for is a place where it’s not going to rain. I would like for the processional to feel like each kid gets the spotlight… not just file in.”
We walked around the campus to see what the ceremony would look like in terms of seating and filing. Grand Park officials and Dr. McGuire accounted for every last detail: entrances, exits, views, seats, sound and speeches.
Despite being Friday the thirteenth, the rest of the day was good for Dr. McGuire. As usual, she attended the home football game where she cheered on the school--or tried to keep a mob of children from getting hurt. That night, under the blood red moon, the students chanted “Stacy! Stacy!” I asked her how she felt about that.
“Oh, I get embarrassed,” Dr. McGuire said. But she added that she tries to make it to at least a few events for every competitive sport or club. Why? Because she finds joy in watching kids thrive. One of the best parts of her job is watching kids do well.
On Monday and Tuesday, I brought Cooper Tinsley (10), WHS Lantern staff member, with me to the interview. We asked a variety of questions, including her schedule those days, her leadership philosophy and any other stories she wanted to tell us.
Nine out of ten times, we were surprised by her responses. For example, she vehemently opposed the school start time schedule, predicting it would take a toll on students. By the time the school board had made a decision, there was nothing left but to present a united front and focus on the future. This is crucial to Dr. McGuire’s philosophy.
“My job is to lead and advocate for the collective,” she said. “Some things don’t work out. Learn from them and have a growth-oriented mindset.”
She is fully aware that as a leader (and human being), both she and her staff will make mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes they can’t control the weather. In all situations, however, she believes we must always stick to our core values. For Dr. McGuire, her core values are multi-layered. The foundation is loving ourselves--if we do not love ourselves or stop comparing ourselves with others, then how can we love others?
Dr. McGuire fully recognizes that this message can be contorted or laughed at by some students. Because she prides herself on being an authentic and genuine person, the last thing she wants is for her message to sound disingenuous to students. But what she can say is that in her 17 years as our high school principal, it’s that the root of hatred and insecurity in high school is not loving oneself.
“We spend so much time wishing we were someone else, we never get to know who we truly are and value the gifts that we have been given,” she said. “We are getting such a warped sense of what’s important… kids are craving validation from people [on social media] they don’t know, who could be serial killers or sociopaths, you know? I just think we’re all pretty spectacular.”
Too long, didn’t read? Her message in short form: Be that best version of you.
Cooper noticed during our interview that she always referred to students as “my kids,” so he asked why she did that. After thinking for a few moments, she answered that this story goes back to 1994 in Brainerd High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Her first job as a teacher (after working at a uranium processor) was at a predominantly African American and low income community--extremely different from Westfield, where she had lived her whole life. She coached a group of close-knit cheerleaders, who affectionately called her “Miss Mac.”
Her perspective changed when one of her cheerleaders was murdered. Dr. McGuire attended her funeral with the rest of the cheerleading squad. Many parents did not even show up. As she hugged with the squad, she realized those kids taught her invaluable lessons.
“You need to think of them as your own,” she said. “You need to treat them as your own. You need to give them your very best and you need to expect the very best from them. I guess that’s where all of this started… seeing as some kids don’t have anybody to call them their kids. And I called them my girls. And at the end of the season when they talked about different things… three of them said, ‘Thank you for letting us know that there is more to life, and that we have value and we have meaning, and for believing in us and showing us there is a different way.’”
We concluded our meeting with that message: “I love my kids.” Although she does not see students as often as a teacher would, she still deeply cares about each individual student. In her own words, “I’m going to move heaven and earth to make sure that we never lose another kid. No young person is expendable.”
I would first and foremost like to thank Dr. McGuire for her generosity and candor in allowing me to write this piece. I also want to thank Mrs. Bonnie Vollmer, who works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure this school runs from day to day and assisted me in planning this story. Thank you to my teachers who allowed me to miss a few periods to cover this and to my sponsors for supporting me. And thank you to my “Whip,” Cooper Tinsley, for your endless support and dedication to the Lantern.