Q & A: Educator Discusses Impact of Politicians' Children on School

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Officials at the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington were bombarded with attention last week as President Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, started school with the media on hand to photograph her playing soccer and to quiz classmates about rubbing elbows for the first time with the First Student.

Teaching the children of prominent politicians is not in the job description for many school administrators, but several Washington-area officials have become versed in such circumstances.

Joseph Ciancaglini, headmaster of the private Gonzaga High School in Washington, talked with Assistant Editor Lonnie Harp about running the school attended over the last four years by Tucker Quayle, who graduated last year, and his brother Benjamin, now a junior, the sons of former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Q. Does the sudden presence of a well-known politician's children affect the school atmosphere?

A. At first, people did take notice, but after a short period of time they became as normal as any other student coming into the school. We were fortunate because they fit in quite naturally.

Q. Is there competition among the schools in Washington to attract prominent children who might raise the school's profile?

A. I'm not aware of any up-front competition. After Mr. Quayle became vice president and they started looking at schools, we met with Mrs. Quayle. It never was a question of how they would be treated; she just wanted to look to see if it would be a good fit, and her impression was that this was a friendly place.

Q. How did you handle security? Was that ever a distraction?

A. The Secret Service agents were here but never went into the classrooms. Sometimes there were none and sometimes there were several, like during the Gulf war. It depended on what was happening nationally.

We always had a room available for them if they wanted to come in, but sometimes they would stay out in their cars. Their priority was not to interfere at all, and so they had to adjust to the routine.

Q. Was there ever a session where you talked with the staff or faculty about how these children should be treated or what to expect?

A. We met with the faculty and told them, basically, that they have to respect their right to privacy, because when students have prominent parents, people will have questions. So we made sure teachers were aware of that. Mainly, though, the main thing was to always realize that these children have needs the same as any other students and it was our job to take care of that.

Q. Did anyone ever talk about feeling starstruck?

A. At first, maybe. You can't help but be aware of the fact that you're dealing with a family with special circumstances, especially if you go to a parent-teacher conference and Secret Service agents are there and you sit down with the Vice President and his wife who want to talk with you one on one. But the Quayles were very at ease and accommodating. They were seen around the school and came to events like the science fair, so they were here and had a great deal of concern about their kids.

We said to the people here at the beginning that the big thing is just to remember that you're dealing with adolescents that are going through the same things as anybody else.

Q. And if things settled down quickly in and around the school, were there ever concerns about shielding the students outside when they were involved in school activities?

A. They did participate in a full range of activities, and one of the interesting things is that there is a certain amount of concern that evolves. When the older boy was on lacrosse-team trips, we tried to protect him from the press inquiries by having him change numbers with others on the team. For them, having to deal with that wherever they go is some pretty hard stuff. Sometimes you do have to go out of your way to make sure there is some normalcy or at least try to do that as much as you can.

Q. Did you get a lot of questions from your colleagues wondering about these kinds of things?

A. People do want to ask questions, and the main things we had to get used to were smaller things. When you're used to dealing with kids, you have to be able to adjust to the situation.

Vol. 12, Issue 18

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