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The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

After a decorated career, Steve Passinault is retiring from education

Steve Passinault
Principal Steve Passinault hugging a student from when he coached our Special Olympics.

For the past 12 years, principal Steve Passinault has always had his students’ best interests in mind.

Whether that be greeting them in the mornings or checking in on their growth throughout their four years at FHC, Passinault has constantly aimed to ensure that his students had the most positive high school experience possible.

“[I’ll] see students who may be coming in as a ninth grader [who] may have not always made good decisions,” Passinault said. “And then, [I] see them as they graduate as seniors where you can just see that there’s been a transformation; there’s been a change.”

One of the largest changes that FHC will have seen in a long time is that come this June when Passinault will retire from his long career in education.

After this recent announcement to the school, both staff and students were left shocked by the impending absence of such a prominent figure within the high school. While this may seem sudden to those who are just finding out, this has been something that Passinault has been grappling with for a couple of years now.

“I don’t know that you’re ever a hundred percent sure when the time is right,” Passinault said. “People would always say, ‘You’ll know when it’s right.’ And it does feel right. I mean, this is my 40th year overall in education. It seemed like a good round number. [I] think about what else I want to do in life. And [I had] to figure out how many years do I have to do that. The timing’s right.”

Though the students of FHC simply know Passinault as their principal, his career in the world of education began much earlier. After having graduated from the University of Notre Dame, Passinault got his first teaching and coaching position at a Catholic school in West Palm Beach, Florida. Once he began coaching basketball, another opportunity presented itself to coach at Thomas Moore College in Kentucky. 

Eventually, however, Passinault no longer wanted to pursue different coaching jobs for the rest of his career and returned to his Alma Mater, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, for 17 years as a teacher and coach, eventually moving up to administration. Before making his much-anticipated arrival at FHC, Passinault was a Husky at Forest Hills Northern, working as the athletic director. After two years as the assistant principal at FHC, he spent the next 12 years as the principal.

I think that knowing that I had a small part in that as a leader of a school is very gratifying and, I think, is rewarding.”

— Steve Passinault

As Passinault leaves the building, he will have been the longest-serving principal FHC has had thus far. From his time here, he can quickly come to the conclusion that the staff and students are what he will miss most about his job.

“You work in a place for 14 years, and you develop relationships—you develop friendships,” Passinault said. “The people are definitely what I’ll miss the most. Seeing activities that [students] are all involved in, being able to go to a game or go to a dance or see a school play or whatever it is; those are the things [I’ll miss]. I think, too, [that] when you see kids shine, when you see kids just proud of what they’re doing, that’s just something that [I’ll] definitely miss as well.” 

While Passinault gets the majority of his praise from the bonds that he builds with students, he has also done an incredible job throughout the years of working well with his staff. Two staff members with whom he has worked incredibly closely are assistant principal John DeStefano and registrar Keyla Acevedo-Hargis.

DeStefano and Passinault have worked closely together since Passinault joined the building 14 years ago. Throughout this time, the two have formed a strong relationship that extends beyond their work lives. DeStefano has seen Passinault thrive within the walls of FHC and truly knows the legacy that will be left behind.

“[Passinault] will be remembered as a compassionate, caring, easy-to-talk-with person who had nothing but the best in mind for everybody that he interacted with,” DeStefano explains. “For me, it’s trying to encapsulate 14 years of working with him into a sentence. It’s not possible for me to do that. The impact that he’s had on people, how he does things. He’s so caring with how he handles things. He’s so open-minded, so willing to listen. I don’t know if I’ve worked with a leader as caring and open and honest and compassionate as he is.”

Passinault has worked closely with DeStefano and Acevedo–Hargis. Every year, the two collaborate to build the master schedule of classes for the following school year, and they have formed an incredible bond throughout their years of partnership.

What Acevedo-Hargis has acutely noticed during her time at FHC is the tightly woven community, one that Passinault helped create.

“[Passinault] has worked very hard at building a culture of pride and unity within each class and with each other,” Acevedo-Hargis said. “I believe he’s the one that brought the senior and freshman retreats [in order] for the freshmen to build the foundation for the four years they’re going to be together. And for the seniors to set the tone for that last year of all the activities and the fun things they’re going to be doing together. He’s worked very hard at building that culture of pride in [the] community.”

Those who look at Passinault’s accomplishments notice how much he has done for the high school from a community standpoint. They see all of the events and traditions that he has brought to the school that will continue long after his retirement.

Passinault, however, when looking back at his 12 years as principal, primarily highlights his individual relationships with the students as something that he treasures most.

“You’re working with students, and you kind of see the growth in students. You see the growth; you see maturity,” Passinault explained. “I think that knowing that I had a small part in that as a leader of a school is very gratifying and, I think, is rewarding. Whatever I do after retirement, it’ll be something that involves trying to help people, trying to work with people. [I’m] still kind of trying to figure out exactly what that is, but that’s the direction it’ll go.”

One way that Passinault likes to highlight the relationships he has formed with the students is during the commencement speech he makes at the graduation ceremony. There, he mentions students involved in almost every sort of extracurricular activity, from basketball to theater to Science Olympiad. 

Acevedo-Hargis specifically looks forward to this part of the graduation ceremony every year. She appreciates and applauds Passinault for his constant effort to ensure that every student at FHC gets represented, even during their final moments of being a Ranger.

“[Passinault] sees value in every student that comes through his building,” Acevedo-Hargis said. “And also, the fact that it’s the whole student [body]; is not just their academics, which he will highlight, but everything else that makes the whole student [body].”

From the beginning of the school year to the final days, from freshman-year students nervously roaming the halls to their confident strides only months later, Passinault never stopped believing in his students. He always saw the best in each of them, even if they couldn’t seem to find it themselves. 

While Passinault may be leaving FHC, he will never lose the part of him that blossomed at this school. No matter where he goes after retirement, Passinault will forever bleed green.

“There are some teachers retiring this year as well and [some who] have retired in the last few years, [and] I think that as people move on and people are replaced by others, I think our community will always be special,” Passinault said. “Because of the families, because of the students that are here, and that’ll continue no matter what. So, I feel good about that. I feel like I’ll be leaving Forest Hills Central in a better place than when I got here. And that’ll make me feel good about following that. And I’ll be cheering everybody on from afar now.”

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About the Contributor
Sofia Hargis-Acevedo
Sofia Hargis-Acevedo, Editor-in-Chief
Sofia is a senior entering her fourth and final year writing for The Central Trend. She has grown up a writer and cannot picture herself as anything but. Along with writing, she keeps herself busy by dancing. She has been leaping across the stage since the ripe age of two, and she is currently on the FHCVDT. For Sofia, endings are bittersweet. And as she approaches her final moments walking the halls of FHC, she will try her hardest to leave her legacy within the words she writes—the words that contain her heart. Her favorite book: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller Her go-to dessert: a piping hot brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream Her favorite season: Fall, without a doubt fall Has she gotten over her fear of birds after three years? Nope!

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