Chesapeake Elementary principal brings Santa to school

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2003

CHESAPEAKE - Jack Finch is anything but the ordinary, average principal.

"He's shaved his head, he spent two days in the tree and he dressed up like a turkey and danced on tables," said Amy McCallister, Chesapeake Elementary kindergarten teacher. "He does things principals don't generally do."

Friday afternoon, Finch donned heavy padding, a red suit and a white beard, transforming himself into the famous jolly fat man for the children at his school. Living up to his anything-but-understated reputation, he also wanted Santa to make a grand entrance.

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Finch's "Plan A" was to board WOWK-TV's Chopper 13 at 1 p.m. at the Lawrence County Airpark, and land it on the football field behind the school. Half an hour before the scheduled boarding, "Santa" needed a Christmas miracle of his own: Chopper 13 was grounded because of the snow.

Still needing to strap a pillow to his chest and put on his red suit, Finch began to burn up the phone line, calling Lawrence County 911 to see if officials there could help. First, 911 workers tried to get Health Net to make the delivery, but it was not possible. The next solution was to get a fire truck, but no dice.

As a make-shift sleigh, Santa, Mrs. Claus and second-grader Taylor Bane, who won a drawing to ride with Santa in the helicopter, hitched a ride in a Chesapeake Police Department cruiser, complete with sirens and flashing lights. The vehicle circled the elementary school, middle, high schools and the board office three times with Finch yelling "Ho! Ho! Ho!" on a loudspeaker.

Santa and his entourage entered through the school's back door to a cheering gymnasium full of students who didn't know Santa was actually their principal.

"I was really excited to see him because I've never met Santa in my whole life - not even Mrs. Claus!" exclaimed smiling second-grader Katie Fife.

Finch said he was grateful that he was still able to make a grand entrance with the police car, not only for Bane, but to also further excite the children already eager to see Santa Claus.

"We do everything we can that's good for the kids, and the reason is because we love them," Finch said.

Many children in the school are not in the best positions, socio-economically speaking, he said. Several of them have never had the chance to go to a mall or other function to see Santa.

"The staff and myself want to make this the best Christmas ever for the kids because this is the only thing many of them get," Finch said.

More than likely, this will not be the last time Finch, who has also camped out in sub-zero weather, goes all out for the children. Even when his education career ends, the children will not be far from his mind.

"We never think of the end. There will be no time when I am no longer loving the kids."