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Central’s principal experiences graduation from a new lens: parenthood

Senior+Jake+Pfeiffer+and+his+mom%2C+Principal+Jackie+Thornton%2C+walk+in+Centrals+honor+garden+on+May+15.+The+two+will+share+one+last+experience+at+Central+when+Pfeiffer+walks+across+the+graduation+stage+on+May+19.
Jay Deegan
Senior Jake Pfeiffer and his mom, Principal Jackie Thornton, walk in Central’s honor garden on May 15. The two will share one last experience at Central when Pfeiffer walks across the graduation stage on May 19.

Editor’s note: As this article profiles a Central Times staff member, all guidelines as outlined in our Editorial Policy were followed, and the staff member removed himself from the production of this article.

In Principal Jackie Thornton’s commemorative speech, she said, “there will never be another class like the Class of 2024 for me.” This year, Thornton will have the unique opportunity to experience graduation not only as a principal, but also as a parent to senior Jake Pfeiffer.

“It’s been the biggest joy of my life to share this experience that not very many people get to share,” Thornton said. “[Jake’s] different walking out than he was walking in, but for me to be able to see that transformation from the inside and outside of the school perspective is really special.”

Thornton held the position of Assistant Principal for Curriculum Instruction for 19 years prior to becoming principal during Pfeiffer’s junior year. Regardless of her job title, Pfeiffer admits he enjoyed a few benefits as a student with a parent working as an administrator at the school he attends.

“It’s very helpful to be able to see a person I know,” Pfieffer said. “It mattered more when I was a sophomore and I was still trying to figure out where else I belonged in the school, but it’s just a nice luxury to have.”

Thornton and Pfeiffer have different last names, which has helped Pfeiffer maintain some independence at Central among the student body, if not as much among staff.

“I’ve been here my whole life and because of that, Jake has been here his whole life,” Thornton said. “From the adult perspective, even though we have different last names, there wasn’t very much anonymity.”

Being known among faculty has been a mostly indifferent experience for Pfeiffer, except for few-and-far between moments like one freshman teacher being “scared of me” and another teacher greeting him in the hallway whom he had never met before.

“I think I had some trouble accepting it early on but over the last couple of years I think I’ve figured out how to navigate it much better,” Pfeiffer said. “I don’t think I will ever think of it as a bad thing because she’s one of my favorite people and I always enjoy spending time with her.” 

Thornton considers herself to be relatively hands-off when it comes to Pfeiffer’s academic successes.

“One of the things that Jake knew from the beginning is that I can’t fight for you,” Thornton said. “If you’re on the border of a B to an A, it’s your fight, not my fight. I never wanted there to be any kind of opportunity for people to doubt him because of who I am.”

For Thornton, moving into the principal role with a student in the building offered an easier transition for her.

“It was a huge advantage for me moving into the principal role where I knew so many students because of Jake,” Thornton said. “In the assistant principal role, I worked with adults at Central but I didn’t know a ton of students.”

During Pfeiffer’s sophomore year, he would join the Central Times, eventually leading to him becoming the editor-in-chief his senior year. In a role which requires a student to actively cover and report on building and district administration, the lines between parent and interviewee had the opportunity to become blurred, though both found ways to navigate switches from a parent-child relationship to an administrator-journalist one.

“I feel like [she] goes into the administrator voice,” Pfeiffer said. “Sometimes she has a way of talking when I’m [at school] and she’s talking at home. When I’m at home she’s my mom unless we’re talking about school specifically.”

Despite the sometimes challenging parent and principal dynamic, it also afforded advantages to Pfeiffer’s time as editor-in-chief, as he was often able to learn about opportunities for news coverage earlier.

As a student-run publication may butt heads with administration at times, Thornton sees the opportunity as something that has opened to her eyes as to how the student press operates.

“I think that I understand the role of a student-run publication and its editor-in-chief differently than I would if I was just the principal and didn’t see all of the behind the scenes,” Thornton said.

As Pfeiffer walks across the graduation stage on May 19, he and his mother will reflect on four years of growing and learning together, not just as mother and son, but as principal and student.

“I think being able to see the Naperville Central that I love through the eyes of a student that I care very deeply about is something I’ll always be grateful for,” Thornton said.

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About the Contributor
Jay Deegan
Jay Deegan, Print Managing Editor
Jay Deegan is a Junior at Central and happy to start his third year of journalistic adventures at the Central Times. Jay loves writing features and diving in-depth into issues that plague our community. In his free time Jay runs a freelance videography and photography business and loves to creatively express his interests in sports and filmmaking. If you’d like to join CT or have a tip, reach out!
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