July 2, 2009
Homer High School principal retiring
Fred Farah has been in the position for 13 years and will leave the job at the end of September
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Homer High School Principal Fred Farah will be retiring in September and make use of his open-ocean fishing rod and reel given to him by the 2009 graduating class.
HOMER — Students, staff and administrators at Homer High School say that many of their notable memories of Principal Fred Farah involve his unique sense of humor.
Farah, 56, a Freeville resident, said he often used jokes to put people at ease and make the best of problematic situations.
“A lot of what comes into my office has some problem attached to it,” Farah said. “ If you’re doing that all day long, after a certain point you try to think of some way to make people have a better day.”
After 13 years as principal of Homer High School, Farah is retiring at the end of September.
Director of Instruction Larry King, who is also retiring this summer, said that when they were both interviewing nervous young candidates for teaching positions, Farah’s jokes would often relax the candidates and allow the interviewers to get a more accurate picture of them. If a candidate was named Tony Bennett, Farah would ask him how his singing career was going, King said.
Farah had plenty of serious tasks to deal with as principal: maintaining a safe environment that was conducive to learning, scheduling classes, planning budgets, walking through hallways and into classrooms to make himself available to students, resolving contract disputes with teachers and disciplining students, to name several.
The draining nature of the job made him realize that at 56, he would not handle the job as effectively in upcoming years as he had in the past.
The optimal age for a high school principal is between the mid-30s and the mid-50s, he said.
“You find it increasingly has an effect on you physically and mentally. You start to notice each year that it just gets harder and harder to keep up,” Farah said.
A short day on the job is 10 hours long, Farah said. If he has an evening event, such as a school play or concert, to attend, his days are often 14 to 15 hours long, he said. On a typical day he had no break, and he met with three or four people in his office while he ate lunch.
But he loved the job because of its intensity.
“Nothing easy is very often worthwhile. It’s usually the more difficult things in life that give us the most satisfaction,” Farah said.
Farah said he plans to spend more time with his wife, Grace, who he does not get to see as often as he would like. He also plans to vacation at a beach in October after he retires, hunt in November, and grow and sell Christmas trees in December.
Farah said he might substitute as a principal for short periods of time in nearby school districts if another principal has to leave.
Farah said he has witnessed many interesting and unusual stories as a principal — so many that sometimes he thinks he should write a book.
“The 13 years were peppered with experiences with kids who you were really worried about, but going from ninth to 12th grade just really grew up,” Farah said.
More than 10 years ago, one student at the high school would constantly offend other students by putting up his middle finger. He was constantly getting hit by other students and being punished. One day Farah spoke with the student in his office about his behavior, and the student said he would “take care of it,” Farah said.
The next day, when the student passed Farah in the hallway and waved to him, the student’s middle finger and ring finger were taped together. The student kept the tape on for a couple of days, and it was enough to remind him not to do it in the future, Farah said.
Farah began his career as a biostatistician for an engineering company inside the World Trade Center. He worked at Dryden Junior High School for 10 years as a physics teacher and then assistant principal. He was principal of Candor High School for 5 years before he came to Homer.
He also worked part time at George Junior Republic and as an adjunct statistics professor at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
Diane Williams, a chemistry teacher at the high school, said she will miss having Farah in the school, but she plans on asking him to substitute for her because of his experience as a science teacher.
“He’s a friend. He’s a colleague, someone you can go to at any time with any question,” Williams said.
Colin Horak, who just graduated from the school on Saturday, said Farah helped him deal with medical issues that at times hindered his academic performance by providing him with special accommodations.
Horak said he has epilepsy and mitochondrial disease, a rare disease that causes his cells to use energy faster, causing him to be tired often.
“I thank him personally for helping me to get through high school academically,” Horak said.
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