Get to know the town: Clifford Owens

Clifford Owens is beginning his second year as principal for Lake Forest South Elementary School this year after a varied career from law enforcement to teaching special needs students. Read more to get a closer glimpse at this community helper:

Name: Clifford Owens

Age: 59-years- old

Educational background: Bachelor’s degree in speech and theology from David Lipscomb University, Master’s degree in counseling psychology from Georgian Court College and certification as a substance abuse counselor from New Jersey, special education from North Carolina and in special education emotionally disturbed from South Carolina.

Current occupation: Principal at Lake Forest South Elementary School

Tell us about your own school experiences?

“It wasn’t easy. My mom left my father after abuse quietly in the night when we were young and she was pregnant. We lived in one room. In the middle of the room, was a hole where we’d go to the bathroom. And on the other side was where we’d cook.

“It wasn’t quite desegregated yet. When I started going to school, well now you’ve got people rocking your bus. The policemen were on horseback. They didn’t bother the folks messing with us. They bothered the folks with

 Clifford Owens is beginning his second year as principal for Lake Forest South Elementary School this year after a varied career in everything from law enforcement to teaching special needs students. The Journal/Jennifer Antonik

Clifford Owens is beginning his second year as principal for Lake Forest South Elementary School this year after a varied career in everything from law enforcement to teaching special needs students. The Journal/Jennifer Antonik

the kids… I cried every day I went to school. The first day of school, a kid broke my nose in the basement. A month later, a kid kicked me in my behind and broke my tail-bone. Nothing was being done. I was a very angry kid, but really, I just didn’t want to be mistreated. “The barber who lived near us, Frank Clay, said, ‘I gotta do something with you cause you’re getting into too much trouble.’ And I got into boxing.

“One thanksgiving we had a can of beans for dinner. Mom cried, I cried. It took Frank Clay and it took Mrs. B in elementary school to help get us through. They were my advocates. And we have kids like that now. So basically, getting into education is my way of giving back.”

How have these experiences shaped you?

“I’ve always walked around with a chip on my shoulder. No one’s going to work harder than me. Everything I’ve ever done in life, I’ve been blessed. But how many other kids can say that. We have to be strong leaders for the kids. The sky’s the limit. You can be successful. My personal, vested interest is that I want to make sure that they don’t go through what I went through. I want them to be successful with less obstacles in their way. That’s my personal story.”

Tell us about yourself now?

“I’m a lifetimer; I like to go to school. I lived in Europe for many years. I played football over there and I boxed there, also. I was stationed there for the Army. I worked in military intelligence and was in for four years. I went to the Netherlands, Amsterdam, Brussels, Belgium… a lot of places. I actually had no intention to work in education. I had a law enforcement background in New Jersey. Then I went for early retirement and my goal was to become either a fireman or a parole officer. Or clinical psychologist.”

How did you get involved in education?

“I got hired for a self- contained, special needs classroom: the Willie M. children. Little did I know when I was hired, they’d went through six teachers between August and October.

“I told all the kids: If you’re not on the field playing, you need to be in the band or do something to keep you interested in school. It was mandated that they do something. I gave them extra credit, of course. But if you dangle that carrot, for example, they get to wear their uniform the day of the game or if they’re behavior was bad they couldn’t play, it worked.”

How did you get involved in administration?

“I really wasn’t interested in administration either. I saw some other administrators that weren’t really that good and I thought I could do a better job. I know I can do a better job. When I applied, someone came up to me and said I like your attitude. Now I’ve had over ten years in administration.”

What is your teaching philosophy?

“I just think we need to address every kid’s learning needs. Every kid can learn; you just have to know how they learn. I’ve noticed in education, for example, that a child may come in on a lower reading level and we want to lower expectations. No, we need to model those higher expectations. I call it the coach approach. If you’ve got a kid 6’8, 350 pounds and they can’t throw a ball but they want to be a quarterback, you know they’re not going to be a quarterback. You have to put them in a position to be successful.

“I was a high school principal for years and I always caught brunt of drop outs. But you know what? It starts here [elementary school]. It’s too late when it happens.”

Tell us about your current role?

“I’m not just the principal. I’m the counselor. I’m the father. I’m just another person in the building, really. They say you’re principal, and I say that’s just a title. I’m an educator. I’m a teacher first. I’m making sure that you’re getting what you need. I’m your biggest advocate, biggest cheerleader… I even go out and chase the kindergärtners around at recess. For 30 minutes, I’m full throttle and I’m exhausted. It’s my exercise and the kids love it. The more comfortable they feel talking to you, the more they’ll tell you things. This is their safe haven. And if you look at it, kids spend more time here than they do at home. 35 hours a week. They’re only home on the weekend basically. So we want kids to feel safe here and their parents that their students are safe here.

“I mean look at the incident that happened up in Howard. That really hit home because I’m a parent, too. That parent trusted that their student will come home. It hit me hard. I love each of our students.”

If you could tell parents anything, what would it be?

“I always say that we have the best interest of every student that comes into our doors. Like you grow plants, we grow students. Their little brains are like sponges; they soak it all up. If you’re in the classroom and you have attitude, your kids are going to have an attitude. The same expectations we have for our students is the same expectations we should have for ourselves.”

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