Time for Shupe to shuffle off
Post Independent Staff
NEW CASTLE – Since 1986, Riverside School principal Chuck Shupe has always been at the door to greet students on the first day of school.
But this August, he won’t show up at the principal’s office. After a long run, Shupe is retiring at the end of this school year.
“I probably won’t really notice the change until August,” Shupe said, sitting at his desk surrounded by books, paperwork and photos of his wife, daughter, dogs and horses. “The toughest part will be missing the teachers. They’re not my employees, they’re family. And I’ll miss the kids.”
Shupe, 54, recently made the decision to retire when “a variety of things fell into place, and I knew this was the right time,” he said.
Shupe didn’t start out as a principal.
“I wanted to be a teacher and a coach,” he said of his interest in working in the classroom and coaching football, basketball and track.
But after teaching and coaching in a rural school in Illinois and making what he thinks was “about $7,700 a year,” friends urged him to get his master’s degree in education administration.
“Administration jobs paid better,” he said. “Getting a master’s opened up other opportunities for me.”
After graduating from the University of Illinois, Shupe landed a position at a large inner-city school. At age 25, he was the youngest principal in the state of Illinois.
“That school was tough,” he said. “It was in the late ’60s, during the civil rights movement. I’d come off a farm, and suddenly I was on riot duty. Every morning, we had to search the students to make sure they weren’t bringing guns and knives to school.”
Shupe was turned off.
“If I wanted that kind of work, I would’ve gotten a degree in criminal justice,” he said. “I relate more to farm and ranch schools.”
A change was in order. Shupe had first come to Colorado when he was in college, and knew he would eventually move here.
“It was the first time I saw mountains,” said this horseman, hunter and fishermen. “I fell in love with the state.”
Shupe worked in Leadville and Basalt before moving to Riverside 17 years ago, which was a K-8 school at the time. Kathryn Senor Elementary School in Castle Valley now holds classes for K-4.
“I really miss the little guys,” said Shupe of the younger students who used to attend his school. “It was great when the sixth- and seventh-graders would go down to the first- and second-grade classes and read to them.”
But New Castle’s growing population doesn’t allow Riverside to be a K-8 school anymore.
Shupe’s hands-on style means he has created new ways to interact with his students. When Garfield County School District Re-2 started a student ambassador program a few years ago, for example, Shupe borrowed the idea and organized Riverside’s own ambassadors, who came up with their own name: Shupe’s Troops.
“Teachers nominate kids to participate,” he said. “We meet once a month, and we talk about problems and what we can do to make the school better. “
Shupe grew up in Minden, Ill., a rural town near the Mississippi River.
“I grew up on a farm and attended a little country school,” he said.
That background is one of the reasons why Shupe has felt so comfortable in New Castle. He and his wife, Glenwood Middle School teacher Annette Westcott, have a 31-acre horse ranch up Main Elk Creek.
“Over the years, I’ll come into town on the weekends to get a newspaper or buy some feed,” he said. “I’ll be wearing jeans and am probably covered in manure. School kids and their parents will see me and say, `Is that you, Mr. Shupe?'”
Shupe said his experience in ranching can come in handy.
“I know what it’s like to move cattle out of the high country or take two or three days to brand,” he said. “So when a parent comes to me and needs to take his kid out of school to help with branding, for instance, I understand that.”
Shupe has seen a lot of changes in education through the years.
“There have been good changes,” he said, noting school assessments and student achievement as two of the top advancements.
Society’s attitudes towards discipline has changed as well.
“In my opinion, during the ’70s and the ’80s, there were certain rules that were accepted,” he said. “There were things students did and didn’t do. There were accepted standards.”
Shupe remembers the days of corporal punishment, and doesn’t believe a whack on the behind taught anything.
“We used to use corporal punishment,” he said, pulling out a relic – the fraternity paddle he used to use to discipline students. “But not anymore. A long time ago, we re-examined the issue.
“Was the paddle solving the problem? No. I found a lot of the kids I paddled were in here over and over. They were regulars. And if they were getting paddled here, it’s likely they were getting knocked around at home. It was an unending cycle.”
Shupe said now his school has a behaviorist who works with students, teachers and administrators, and parents if possible. Contracts are drawn up requiring students to go through mediation and perform community service, for example. The point now is to teach for the long-term.
“We teach kids how to solve disagreements,” he said. “People lose jobs when they can’t get along with bosses.”
That doesn’t mean he has eased up on his students, however.
“I’m known as a strict disciplinarian,” he said with a smile. “I have grown students come back to see me and say, `I’m so glad you made me behave.'”
Shupe said he’s had a good run.
“Every year has gone by so much faster,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine I’ve been in education for 28 years.”
He’s been an administrator so long, students who have graduated from school eventually bring their own children to school.
“I have several parents who were students of mine at Basalt Middle School,” he said. “A lot of them have moved downvalley to raise their families. The parents will usually tell me their kids are a lot better behaved than they were.”
Shupe is planning to have no plans regarding his post-principal life.
“What we’re looking forward to is a flexible schedule,” he said. “I’ll have time to build fence at our place. It’ll be great to be able to go to the Stock Show for a week instead of a day.
“It’ll be great to travel, and not just during two weeks in the summer. We’re looking forward to going on horsepack trips in the fall, when the crowds are gone and the fall weather is here.”
Until then, Shupe will relish the time with his Shupe’s Troops and with Riverside’s students, faculty and staff.
“It’s a little scary,” he said of his upcoming retirement, “and it’s exciting, too.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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