Captain C Sails to Portsmouth High School

An interview with Steve Chinosi, the new PHS principal


Captain C Sailing in Chesapeake Bay

Marina Shone, Paperclip Staff/Writer

Interviewer: When you were growing up, did you know that you wanted to work in a school or even be a principal?

Mr. Chinosi: I think in my 8th grade yearbook they asked us about future plans and I said I wanted to be an Alaskan bush pilot and travel guide. I believe I said the same thing in my high school yearbook.


Interviewer: When did you start to realize that you wanted to work in a school?

Mr. Chinosi: I was a big fan of Andrés Segovia, who was the master of the classical guitar when I was 14 years old. He died in the 80s and before he died he was asked in a TV interview, “what will you remember most from this amazing life you’ve had?”His response was, “the thing I will remember most about my life is that ‘to teach is to learn twice.” When I heard that at 14 years old it stuck with me throughout my life. What I learned from hearing that quote was that I’m so committed to learning, and all I want to do in my life is learn, anywhere, anytime. It really is quite a selfish thing. Before I was a teacher I was a mountain guide, and as I was teaching in the woods while kayaking and canoeing, I realized that I was learning more through teaching, and I was getting better every time I had to explain something to the tourists. When I became a teacher, I transferred that into the classroom, finding that classroom teaching was just an extension of the teaching I had done in the mountains. I became a teacher because I wanted to learn more, and I knew that I needed the students to help me learn and understand more about myself.


Interviewer: What made you want to become the new principal of PHS?

Mr. Chinosi: I had only applied to two principalships, Portsmouth being one of them, so it was very limited for me. I was being very selective and what primarily drew me to PHS was the comprehensive high school environment. PHS is a school that offers the most amazing array of experiences for kids, from our incredible travel language program to music, to the band, to sports, and everything in between. You don’t find many of these kinds of schools. It gives students insight into what college and ‘after high school life’ looks like.

During my teaching career, I bounced in and out of comprehensive high schools. I actually worked with Ms. Richings at a vocational school down in Massachusetts. There I created a green energy program that included bio-diesel and lipid extraction research. That was a part of a CTE program. It is important to me that kids don’t get sucked into a single track, so when a school can offer kids little dips into different experiences, I believe that is very beneficial. After being in PHS and feeling out the environment, I discovered what I valued most about PHS is that students can have the leadership to demonstrate their skills and knowledge to their peers. A kid in carpentry or welding could share their skill with another student that doesn’t know much about that area. It is the most beautiful example of sharing our learning and making our thinking visible.

The city of Portsmouth itself is another factor that drew me to PHS. My family and I spend a lot of time in Portsmouth. Whether it is at the summer concert series or just wandering around, it really has always been a favorite place of ours. We are very excited to become a part of the community.


Interviewer: What are your plans for the 22-23 school year and years beyond?

Mr. Chinosi: It really is a mapping expedition. PHS has so many things going really well, and they are doing a lot of things right. I don’t feel as though my job is to come in with a plan of change, but instead to learn and see where I fit into this wonderful community. A community isn’t going to shape itself to me, but instead, I shape myself to the community.


Interviewer: What are your favorite summer activities?

Mr. Chinosi: My daughter and I love to kayak. Our family also does what we call “Summit Saturdays” or “Surf Saturdays.” One Saturday a month we find ourselves up in the mountains or somewhere near the beach. Music is also a huge part of my life so summer is always a great time to find folks to jam with and set up on the back porch.


Interviewer: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?

Mr. Chinosi: There is an old Japanese sword called a bokken. I want to go to Japan to study classical swordsmanship. There are these really cool armor suits that they used for Kendo, and I would love to wear one. Kendo is kind of like fencing but with bamboo swords. Ireland is also on the top of my bucket list.


Interviewer: What is your best childhood memory?

Mr. Chinosi: Way back in the 70s, an uncle of mine got me the little baby version of Fred Flinstone’s car. There are so many pictures of me around 5 or 6 years old in that car. My family is pretty big, with all Italian immigrants, so our family is like a big tribal unit. It was really special to me because I know that they must have saved up money to get me that car. 


Interviewer: Is there a quote or a motto that you live by?

Mr. Chinosi: As mentioned earlier, the quote by Segovia, “to teach is to learn twice” has always stuck with me and I have definitely lived my life through that quote. When I was 14, I heard another quote by Albert Einstein. It was said in response to the Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X assassinations. He said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” That bounces in my head fairly regularly. It makes me think of the people who challenge us and those who present ideas that seem disruptive to the status quo. For example, Malcolm X had everyone against him, but he was truly leading Americans. 


Interviewer: Is there anything that you want the community of PHS to know?

Mr. Chinosi: I’m currently working in Andover, but most of my brain is already in Portsmouth mode. I couldn’t be more excited to be there with the students and staff. I want to learn from each and every one of you and then we will see where we want to go. As I said, a big part of my job is to learn from all of you, but at the same time, we need leadership from everyone because we are going to have to draw maps for where we want to go together. I want that to be a collaborative effort. We’re going to have to turn the ship around at some point. Of course, we are going to hold steady and learn along the way, but we’re going to have to create a new map and a new expedition. It really is my happy place and I couldn’t be more excited.