Mr. Eric Spencer: A legacy of change

When Mr. Eric Spencer arrived at Lampeter-Strasburg five years ago, he came to a school in transition. Effectively weathering those transitions has been the hallmark of his tenure, and what he cites as his greatest accomplishment.
Mr. Eric Spencer's five year tenure as principal of L-S High
School draws to a close on June 30


Like all Pennsylvania public high schools, L-S had to realign its instruction to the Keystone Exams rather than the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), a massive undertaking at the administrative level particularly with regards to curriculum. Additionally, schools have changed to a new system of teacher rating, which has required the implementation of Student Learning Objectives (SLO), another project on which administrators have spent considerable time.


"I got to be the principal when all that went down," he says, adding that a pivotal piece of the new educational puzzle is "learning how to use data to improve instruction."


Although that focus on data has irked some students and staff members who feel a human aspect of education can be lost when data takes center stage, Spencer feels that it is an important tool. He believes that he has fostered a positive culture throughout the building.


"Kids should be excited about coming to school to participate in activities and sports," he says. "My job is to remove distractions, things that could keep them from being successful, and be there to celebrate and congratulate in the good times and to guide and eliminate potential pitfalls."


One pitfall Spencer sees not just at L-S, but at schools across the country and perhaps even society in general is a lack of accountability not only by students, but also by parents.


"As in any high school, young people need to be accountable. That's a systemic problem," he says. "I am shocked and appalled by how much people want to focus on who else is responsible whether it's an academic issue, a discipline issue, or whatever."


Spencer's focus on accountability and output is one trait that has drawn him acclaim from current and former students.


"Mr. Spencer made sure everyone did their best this school year," says freshman Delaney McCormick. "I think he did his job, making sure students followed the rules to make sure we had a safe school where we were focused on academics."


2013 graduate David Griffith concurs.


"I believe that Mr. Spencer's enduring legacy will be his reputation as a wise and discerning man whose insights into the needs of the L-SHS community enriched it," Griffith says.

Considering one's own legacy tends to be uncomfortable, which was evident as Spencer pondered what he hoped his would be. Ultimately, he settled on "someone who was a good person" and "someone who was always there when you turned to me."


That was certainly the case for Class of 2015 Valedictorian Ethan Emmert, who spoke in affirmation of Spencer's helpfulness and advocacy before, during, and after his time at the high school. Even before his freshman year (which was just as Spencer was settling into his role as principal at L-S), Emmert recalls that "even before he knew how to log into PowerSchool", Spencer was willing to help work out a problematic course schedule. That penchant for student engagement continued.


"He really did make an effort for students to feel welcome. He learned students' names and greeted us in the hallway," Emmert explains. "Now, he's written me two terrific recommendation letters for college and employment, and I am extremely grateful for the impact he had on my high school education."


Of course, Spencer's tenure had its controversies.


After the departure of Mr. Carroll Staub, whose principalship was widely appreciated by students for the privileges and freedoms they enjoyed, Spencer sought to bring more consistency and regulation to the high school.

"When Mr. Spencer came to L-S he brought with him a refreshingly direct style that was well-suited to establishing an orderly atmosphere at the high school," says Mr. Jeffrey Hudson, a social studies teacher at the high school.


Many students point to Spencer's regulation on the number of occupants at a lunch table as a microcosm for his leadership style, but for his part, Spencer says that students "will ultimately realize it's pretty trivial."


On a larger scale, Spencer has taken great strides in improving building security.


"He's a big safety guy," explains Mr. Adam Zurn, the practical arts department head who is a technology education teacher with experience on the District's Safety Committee (Zurn is also the advisor to LSNews.org).


Spencer oversaw the implementation of some 36 cameras, which are used both for safety purposes and, somewhat controversially, for student discipline. Additionally, administrators now carry walkie talkies to be in constant communication should a safety concern arise. Zurn also noted that prior to Spencer's arrival, students were permitted to freely roam the hallways as soon as the building was unlocked around 7:00 in the morning. Now, students are confined to the office lobby or grand hallway until 7:20, 15 minutes before classes start at 7:35. Zurn states, "Mr. Spencer identified and solved safety problems we didn't even know we had."


Spencer's biggest regret deals with the course weighting system, something he wishes he had the opportunity to review.


"When I came in, the GPA and grade weighting system was in the middle of the process of being changed," he explains. "Unfortunately, when you're in the middle, you can't start making changes when the process is new."


If he had remained at L-S for a longer period of time, he says, "I would definitely want to have that discussion."


Dr. Benjamin Feeney, who is finishing his second year as assistant principal, will take over the reins come July 1, much to the delight of many students, staff members, and yes, even Mr. Spencer.


"It's a great opportunity for him to lead," says Spencer.


Junior Lauren Rettew is excited for Feeney to become principal.


"I am very happy that he is becoming the principal!" she says. "I believe that he connects to the students very well, and I think that he tries to understand us too. I have seen him at multiple sporting events, and it impresses me that he gets out to support our sports teams."


A focus on extracurricular activity was important to Spencer as well.


"You have to build the whole child," Spencer says, crediting that mindset for his support of L-S potentially moving towards turf. "Turf fields have always increased participation because they can be used so much more."


It is not just athletics, though, that Spencer appreciates at L-S.


"There are so many people with so many strengths. These activities can build confidence in students," he explains, noting that among his goals for L-S moving forward after his departure is to "maintain the excellence you have in the music program and the arts … there are such wonderful staff members and students and community members."


Spencer's future will entail encouraging extracurricular activity; he will head north to McCaskey to coach football and teach, probably in the social studies department, although he has not yet been given a specific assignment. He noted that because McCaskey is a section one school, going there will avert potential rivalry not only with L-S, but also his home district, Garden Spot, both of which are section two schools.


"My kids haven't always liked it too much over the last few years," he says. "L-S has beaten Garden Spot 75 or 80% of the time. There's constant competition against my kids' school, so I won't have that."


Spencer remains principal at L-S High School until June 30 and is hoping for a nice, smooth ending.


The most surprising part aspect of being principal, he says, is the sheer number of decisions he has to make during the day.


"From vandalism to discipline to teacher and parent situations to maintenance to transportation to kitchen staffing, you're bombarded daily," he explains before noting, "There's never a simple easy answer that's going to make everyone happy."


That said, he appreciates the opportunity he has had to lead L-S High School for the last five years.


"To be a principal, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity," he declares. "This has got to be one of the top ten jobs in the country, and I say that as someone who has been in six or seven districts."


There's one other thing about which Spencer is sure without a shadow of a doubt … it took him only a split second to share what he will miss most about Lampeter-Strasburg High School.

"The students."


--Benjamin Pontz, LSNews.org Editor-In-Chief

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