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Principal Claude Sanders watches over Havasupai students as if they were his own

December 17, 2018

Claude Sanders is running out of drywall in his office. He’d have to shift into replacement mode if he wanted to add new artwork.

“All of this was given to me,” he said, waving his arm at the colorful collection. It features superheroes and is an ideal conversation starter when youngsters visit his office.

As principal of Havasupai Elementary School in Lake Havasu City for almost 14 years, he’s had plenty of chances to be a hero to schoolchildren. There are 375 students, 23 teachers and 22 support staff that make up what he calls the “Havasupai family.”

“The kids are the best thing about this school,” Sanders said. “And we wouldn’t be an ‘A’ school without the parents and teachers who support our students.”

Sanders earned his bachelor’s degree in K-12 education from the University of Western New Mexico. He obtained his master’s degree in school administration from Northern Arizona University. He is closing in on his doctorate degree.

He came to Havasu in 2001 and spent four years as an assistant principal at Lake Havasu High School. His promotion to principal placed Sanders in one of the city’s oldest schools. Havasupai was built in 1972.

The school has its challenges. Eighty percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches. But that statistic is misleading from the wrong perspective.

“We had 80 kids on the straight-A honor roll. On Dec. 12, we had a pizza lunch for them in the library. We have great teachers and the kids are really good students,” Sanders said.

Family Marie Kervin, his significant other of 20 years.

Hometown

Born in Knox, Indiana, which is about 60 miles south of Chicago.

Hobbies Golfing, walking by the lake and hiking in the desert. I also remodel my house continuously.

If you were president of the United States, what’s one thing you would do differently?

I don’t think the federal government funds public education enough.

What was your best surprise?

Getting the principal’s job at this school. There were four of us (candidates). I thought I was the least likely one.

If you had a free weekend, what would you do with it?

With Marie, we’d sleep in, go to lunch, see a movie, do some shopping and then go home. We’d go to bed early.

Where is your next vacation taking you?

To the Gulf Coast for a week. We are meeting my family in Biloxie, Mississippi and staying in a timeshare.

What’s one goal you still hope to achieve?

To leave this school better than it was when I took it over.

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

”Conan the Barbarian.” Being a phys-ed teacher, I used to lift a lot of weights. “Conan” was the first of the bodybuilding movies that was a good story. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and had a happy ending.

What’s your most recent splurge?

Going to Shugrue’s for a nice dinner. Every bite was good.

If you could change lives with anyone for a day, who would you like to be?

I think Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson (The Rock). I’d like to see what it’s like to be a movie star for a day.

What’s the luckiest thing that ever happened to you?

I put $1 in a slot machine and won $500. It was at Railroad Pass (outside Henderson, Nev.) We had stopped to use the bathroom.

If you weren’t in your present career, what would you like to be?

A high performance or race car mechanic.

What’s the craziest, most impulsive thing you’ve ever done that you can talk about?

This scared me more than anything. I was about 10 years old and learning to water ski. I was almost legally blind and wore pop bottle (lens) glasses. But I couldn’t wear my glasses in the water, so I couldn’t see the waves. I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself.

What song do you like to sing along to?

Christmas carols. I’ve been in the Community Choir for 16 years and I really like singing Christmas songs. I’m a bass in the choir.

What’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you? I have a severe learning disability. I was tested and diagnosed with dyslexia. I read slowly and my spelling is mostly phonetic. Early in my college career, I was having a difficult time. My dad bought me a Tandy computer that had spell check. I went from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s. Now I’m a principal teaching others how to read and write. That’s what technology does for us.

What’s left on your life’s “to-do” list?

Going to Hawaii and Alaska. Those are my two biggies.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would that be?

The president of the United States. I don’t care who it is.

What was your worst job?

A custodian at a high school. I had to clean the locker rooms. It was nasty.

What food can’t you live without?

Ice cream – any flavor.

What are your treasures?

I have a slice of sandstone from Utah. The layers in it look exactly like a mountain range. My grandparents were rockhounds and we would go out and look for things. I have huge pieces of petrified wood from back when you could collect it. I also have some dinosaur bones.

Favorite pair of shoes?

I have an old pair of Nike high-top basketball shoes from 1987. They are so comfortable. I wear them around the house.

What is your go-to gadget?

My Samsung Note 8. It does everything.

What do you collect?

For about 36 years, I’ve collected houses made by Dept. 56. I really like the Halloween ones, but I have snow village houses, too. I must have 60 to 80 of them still in boxes. I don’t pay full price. I find them on sale.

What item do you buy in bulk?

Kraft macaroni and cheese. You can buy the boxes in five-packs. It’s my comfort food.

What’s your coffee shop order?

Straight black.

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