You could say that Lucas “Luke” Clamp, NASSP’s 2019 Principal of the Year, was born to be an educator. His mother was his first-grade teacher, then elementary principal, and a middle school principal, before finally retiring as a school superintendent. “Her model of love and interaction with students, faculty, and the community provided a strong example of how following your passion into a career can be so fulfilling,” says Clamp, who solidified his calling into the field of education as a senior in high school while taking a course called Teacher Cadet. “It has been an honor to follow God’s calling and to serve in public education since 2002.”

The path to leadership began when he was chosen as an assistant principal at Lexington High School as part of Lexington County School District One in South Carolina. After four years in the classroom, Clamp was fortunate to be selected as an assistant principal at such an accomplished school with sound leadership, which enabled him to spend five critical years growing as an education leader. Creig Tyler was the principal who first hired Clamp into school-based leadership and served as a mentor and guide.

“He was a leader who empowered his team to make decisions in the best interest of students, while also providing timely feedback for growth and development.” Clamp says. “The team I served on with six other assistant principals was seasoned in leadership, and I was able to model some of their techniques as I developed my own. This position laid the groundwork [for me] to be considered as the founding principal at River Bluff [High School], and I believe that was a true turning point in my career.”

Embracing the School of the Future

River Bluff was a dream of educators, developed after a successful bond referendum in 2008. The district formed a committee of educators to dream, research, and design “Schools of the Future—Now.” This committee created a draft document of the profile of a 21st-century graduate, and these design criteria became the catalyst for architecture firms to design and build River Bluff, which opened in 2013. The 525,000-square-foot facility is nestled on 146 acres of land off a historic and scenic highway in Lexington, SC, with a core capacity of 2,500 students. The scope of the project included plans for LEED Silver Certification, as well as flexible and collaborative learning spaces, a learning commons, performing arts center, coffee shop (Cafe 320), cafeteria (River Cafe), dual gyms, media arts and music technology labs, wireless network capabilities, athletic facilities, an art gallery, and a student-run school store (Gator Town).

Forging New Experiences

Clamp has implemented a host of new programs at River Bluff High School since it opened, including its partnership with EL Education. EL Education is a professional development network of schools around the country that provides partnerships and design structures to see student achievement thrive in three dimensions: master of knowledge and skills, character, and high-quality work. River Bluff was the first EL Education High School in South Carolina, and learning involvement in fieldwork, learning expeditions, case studies, and service projects drive unique experiences schoolwide that have contributed to a better world, according to Clamp. A significant experience for all students at River Bluff is CREW, which is a heterogeneous set of students grouped by grade level. These students are organized to loop every two years, working together to create relationships and explore within.

River Bluff is also home to two Centers for Advanced Study—Law and Global Policy Development and Media Arts, Design, and Production. These two-year centers, open to any junior or senior in the district, allow students rigorous course and learning experiences from experts in the field. “Our students are creating their own music and film in Media Arts while debating and writing local policy in Law and Global Policy Development. Our students have hosted local and national debates and created their own music festival,” Clamp says. Each center connects fieldwork with skills-based learning to allow students a collegiate-level experience on a high school campus.

River Bluff also sponsors a schoolwide service project at Christmas, which enables every CREW to adopt a family of underserved children and provide presents for them. Last year, more than 120 children were adopted. “Each year in the spring, our seniors in CREW present an IMPACT Conference, as each CREW selects a local issue to address and presents this to an authentic audience. Ninth-, 10th-, and 11th-graders in science, English, and history classes engage in a six- to eight-week learning expedition on power, environmental issues, and civil rights,” Clamp says.

Flexible Scheduling

And then there’s the school’s flexible scheduling initiative. According to Clamp, the school is the first FLEX MOD (Flexible Modular) school to adopt this schedule in South Carolina. “Our 25-mod [period] day of mods varying from 10–30 minutes allows for distribution of time to be flexible and dynamic. Students are scheduled in face-to-face learning experiences with teachers and also allowed time throughout their day to have Independent Learning Time (ILT) with which to engage in their work, collaborate with teachers and other students, and interact socially throughout the school day, he explains. Flex Mod scheduling creates conditions for teachers and students to be available to one another, he notes, while also developing skills of time management and collaboration. “Teachers are scheduled into collaborative teams during the school day one hour a week, and students have access to other resources such as counseling and advisement and administration without missing any class time,” Clamp adds.

Social and Emotional Learning

All these opportunities, coupled with Clamp’s focus on building connections with students and staff, support social-emotional learning. “Our social climate is one of inclusion and acceptance. We believe our motto to ‘Work hard. Get smart. Do good,’ requires all to be accepting of others and engaged in the well-being of each student,” Clamp says. “We accomplish this by sitting in circles daily in CREW and other classes. A circle provides a safe place for all to be accepted and included. A student’s voice is heard in a circle, and this is where we believe we have made the most significant movements in equity in our school. We engage in restorative justice practices also for our most at-risk students.”

River Bluff High School offers more than 25 clubs and organizations and dozens of sports and fine art teams to encourage students to get involved.

“Once students have a place to serve and share their voice, we feel their contributions rise. We also follow five habits of scholarship in our academic and social behaviors: personal responsibility, growth mindset, collaboration and relationships, excellence, and citizenship. These guide our decisions and interactions within one another,” Clamp notes.

In five years, River Bluff has won four state championships in four different sports: competitive cheer, wrestling, women’s tennis, and men’s soccer. The school has signed dozens of students to National Letters of Intent, has won several individual state titles and dozens of conference championships, and the men’s soccer coach was named National Coach of the Year in 2017. The Gator Band has posted runner-up finishes two of the last five years, and River Bluff’s steel drum band was selected to perform nationally in San Antonio, at last year’s National School Board Association’s convention.

Leaders Shaping Leaders

Clamp believes strongly in the leadership development at River Bluff. In five years, he notes, nine staff members have been promoted to advanced positions in leadership. Among those, an assistant principal was promoted to principal, an athletic director was promoted to director of athletics for the district, five teachers were promoted to assistant principals, and another to district-level coordinator. A student at River Bluff founded a nonprofit—Student Voice—and others are leaders in their colleges and universities.

What resonates most with Clamp is seeing both students and staff try something new or learn something for the first time and thrive. “Serving in a capacity to create conditions for success, I often get to observe students and staff taking academic risks that soon return huge dividends in their growth and development,” he says. “It is pure joy to engage with teenagers every day and, as no two days are alike, it is easy to get to work where you genuinely love what you do.”

Michael Levin-Epstein is senior editor of Principal Leadership.

Sidebar: Hobbies and Family

In his spare time, Clamp is an avid runner, notching 15 half marathons and one full marathon. He has also run four 200-mile team relays, two of which were with faculty and staff from River Bluff, and is a member of a men’s group called F3—a fellowship group that exercises and serves the local community. But above all, he says, he enjoys spending time with his family. He and his wife Alecia have two sons: Ian and Alex. Alecia is a reading interventionist. They love to travel with their boys and explore new adventures such as snow skiing, hiking, and visiting new cities. Clamp also enjoys coaching the boys’ recreational baseball and football teams.

“We are all huge supporters of the Clemson Tigers, and spend many weekends supporting their athletic events,” Clamp says. The Clemson Tigers were ranked No. 2 in the country at the time this article was written. “My oldest son Ian is involved in scouting, and as an Eagle Scout myself, I love to go camping and hiking with him, learning new outdoor skills and teamwork.”

Clamp has a solid relationship with stakeholders, and that begins by being civic-minded and involved in the local community. He and his wife serve at their local church, Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church, and Clamp also serves as a board member of their local Rotary Club. “I attend and get involved in many local events to both be accessible to the community and provide philanthropic access to the cause. I am eager to listen to our parents and support them as they partner with us in the growth and development of their sons. Our community supports public education and values the relationship between our educational system and economic development in our city,” he notes.

Sidebar: Clamp’s Educational and Leadership Philosophy

“My educational philosophy first begins with a belief that solidifying a relationship with students and staff will create a condition for progress. Relationships are the foundation for leadership and learning,” Clamp says. “I believe that all students deserve an equitable education regardless of their circumstance, and it is our responsibility as public educators to engage with them to discern their needs, and then design learning experiences to equip and empower them to lead their own learning. Learning can happen anywhere, anytime, and engaging in real work for a real audience is a belief we have—to allow students to have experiences that will lead to their contribution to a better world.

“My relationships with teachers and staff members are key to the success of our school. Knowing each staff member individually allows me to empower them to create conditions for learning for students. My philosophy begins with creating experiences for adults to have fun, such as rafting down the Saluda River, attending cooking classes, competing with one another in field day activities, and attempting to escape from a local Escape Room.

“Above all, it is critical as leader to listen. My door is always open, and I allow for every opportunity to listen and support our team through personal and professional growth and development.”