by Sarah Einselen
Nancy Franklin has a framed Navy poster hanging behind her desk at Lewis Cass Junior-Senior High School. But keen-eyed students will notice something else her desk typically keeps hidden — the “crazy” socks Franklin says she tries to wear each day.
Neon polka-dots and other bright patterns help students realize that Franklin’s not “a three-horned ogre,” there merely to scold and punish them, she said.
“I don’t want them to see me as something to fear if they have nothing to fear,” she said.
Franklin, a former Navy lieutenant commander and 17-year teacher and part-time school administrator, started at Lewis Cass this year as the assistant principal in charge of discipline, a position previously occupied by new principal Mark Karmel.
When Franklin introduced herself to Lewis Cass teachers and staff this fall, it was deja vu for longtime English teacher Cindy Collins.
Collins, who has taught for 29 years at Lewis Cass, didn’t remember — at first — that Franklin had once been a student teacher under her supervision in the early 1990s.
“I started putting everything together” on the drive home, Collins said, thinking, “She was in the military. Oh, that’s who she is!”
Now Collins has a chance to see the woman she remembered as a fledgling teacher come back mid-career to manage discipline for junior and senior high and attendance record-keeping for the senior high. Collins said Franklin seems to be fitting in well.
Franklin, now a Galveston resident, moved to the area after her husband Ben, a member of the Air Force, was transferred to Grissom Air Reserve Base. After the move, she switched from active duty to a position that entailed periodic overseas travel out of Chicago to help foreign shipping agents stay away from military operations.
But her heart had always been in working with students.
Even in high school, Franklin said, she had wanted to establish a career working with high schoolers. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in social work, but upon graduation could not find a job as a school social worker — the position wasn’t common, as it is today.
With a brother and aunt in the U.S. Navy and a father in the U.S. Army, a military career seemed a natural fall-back. Navy enlistment took her to far-flung places like Mogadishu, Somalia.
The extreme poverty she witnessed there served as a “real wake-up call,” Franklin said.
Sights like that of a starving woman too weak to close her fist around a few coins dropped into her hand by a pitying passerby showed her how selfishly she’d been living, she said.
“You can’t walk away from those and not be changed,” Franklin said. “You begin to think in terms of, where do you input yourself into life? What do you have to offer?”
So once in Galveston, she went back to school to become a licensed English and language arts teacher for seventh through 12th grades, finishing a two-year licensure program at Indiana Wesleyan University in 18 months.
Then she resigned her Navy commission and started teaching at McKinley Alternative School in the Kokomo-Center School Corporation, where she loved her work.
“I am a big believer in the alternative programs,” said Franklin. “I think there’s a huge need for it and quite honestly there’s not enough of them out there.”
An administrator at McKinley encouraged Franklin to pursue further education to become an administrator. She did so and for seven years split her time between teaching and administration.
Although she enjoyed what she did, Franklin decided to pursue another job because “17 years is too long,” she said. “I just felt like I needed to move either back into teaching or into full-time administration.”
Southeastern superintendent John Bevan was convinced after her first interview that the school had found its ideal candidate.
“She’s fulfilling a role that we designed, and she’s a perfect fit for it,” Bevan said. “She has the ability to let the kids know that she really does care about them, while at the same time making it clear that there are rules and we expect you to obey them.”
At the same time, the new job has given Franklin deeper insight into the way school discipline works. She’s had to study the student handbook cover to cover and enrolled in two constitutional law classes and an assistant principal’s conference since starting at Lewis Cass.
Now, when Lewis Cass students enter her office, she tries to clarify that infractions and consequences aren’t personal. They haven’t offended her by misbehavior and she isn’t mad at them when she issues consequences.
“This is just a conversation,” Franklin tells students.
It’s a conversation, she says, that is intended to help them.
Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com or 574-732-5151.