A Teacher’s Heart

Knowing and loving our young people, either my students in the classroom or a troubled kid when I was a principal or a group of students as a superintendent is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. What could possibly have more meaning than working with our students, showing them that we love and care about them, expect and see the best in them?

On Friday night, at our SGI football game, I got to catch up with one of my Pine Valley students from the 1990’s because he’s now a parent in our district. Not only is Pine Valley a small school district but I taught Spanish so I got to teach the same kids for four-five years. We came to know each other well!

I’m not sure I can adequately express how much I enjoyed that visit on Friday night. I truly, with my whole heart, love that kid. And his classmates. Michael was in seventh grade in my first year at Pine Valley and I was there when his class graduated. In my head they’re all still about 14 years old. When I walked up to say hello to Michael I was shocked to see he’s got some wrinkles! Which of course I remarked on only to have him say, “You can’t say that to a grown man! You know you don’t have to say everything you’re thinking!” It was as if the twenty years that have passed were nothing. He was a kid in my class and I was the teacher who knew the best version of him.

Seeing him as a dad and a loving husband but still knowing the boy who he was–that was pure joy for me. When I think about the many gifts in my big, beautiful life, few compare to the gift of knowing my students as they become adults.

I’m incredibly grateful for my lunches with Nikki and Kristin, my phone calls to proof a paper for Ryan, that Jason doesn’t write me a ticket if I’m driving a bit too fast and stays to catch up, that Allison calls me for advice and makes time for lunch on school breaks, that I can read what they’re all doing on social media, and for my RCS lunch crew who came to see me this summer plus every other student who’s allowed me into their lives in some way.

I hope they know that I will always see them for the very best that they are, always expect the best of them and always love them with my whole heart. What a privilege it is to be a TEACHER.

When to Move On?

Other leaders in education have written articles about knowing when it’s time to leave a position or district. In most cases they are discussing situations in which tensions have grown, a BOE has changed, priorities and relationships transitioned, and it’s time for a superintendent of schools to move on. I went to hear retired Erie 1 BOCES superintendent Don Ogilvie speak on this topic and that of administrative resiliency earlier this year as part of the WNY Educational Services Council speaker series.

My question to Mr. Ogilvie was different. I wanted to know, “how do you know when it’s time to move on when things are really GOOD?” 

Since sometime over the summer, I’ve been thinking about our work at Randolph and the rest of my career. Things are really good at RCS! Sure there are things to do–there are always things to do in an organization with an $18 million budget, almost 200 employees, and 950 students. But we’ve generally got it figured out and as our teams have grown in their competence, I’ve felt more and more irrelevant.

Mentally I’m craving the kind of organizational systems problem solving that gives me a sense of purpose. I want to know that my work is making a significant difference that benefits students and employees. We’ve largely figured those things out at RCS over the past several years. We have experienced teachers, administrators who know our systems and how they best work to serve our students, and an incredibly experienced, thoughtful BOE–the place is humming along nicely. This is evidenced by our consistent and dramatic increases in academic achievement, our climate survey results, and our successful contract negotiations and positive budget votes.

So, what would you do? Continue to work in the environment you’ve tried so hard to create, knowing that your biggest problems are behind you? Or leave the sustainability of the system to the other leaders in the organization who have it down, choosing instead to look for another opportunity to impact an educational system elsewhere? Perhaps there’s another school system where those working hard within that district and those children and families could benefit from committed, sustained instructional leadership? And your sense of purpose and meaning could be renewed? Or do you sit back and enjoy the ride?

Correct Maslow Post

I have been the proud superintendent of the Randolph Central School District since the Fall of 2008. In this, my eighth school year here, I’ve decided to take on a challenge in another district.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have been selected and appointed as the superintendent of schools for the Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District. I will start there on March 7, 2016.

My reasons for this decision are centered on the incredible accomplishments of everyone at Randolph. The problems we had when I arrived have been eradicated: there is again trust between the employees, administration, and BOE members; we have systems in place in which teachers support one another with a coherent, shared curriculum; teachers are doing more with technology tools that personalize learning for all students every year; we’re on the cusp of purchasing a useful basal reading series that will help to improve our ELA instruction even more; everyone in the system is pulling his or her own weight; we have cleaner buildings (and floors!), and a capital project all set to go that will take care of masonry, roof tops, phone and data upgrades, fire detection and alarm systems, stage rigging and lighting, a safer parking lot flow, a new track and a new heating system in the high school. We continue to hold a strong budget position that balances the needs of our students with the needs of our taxpayers. And I have more confidence in our administrative team than ever before at RCS.

I’ve realized with every passing day “they’ve got this!” I want to have a feeling of purpose again, to go where I’m needed. I want to think and analyze and solve problems. And I’m 100% certain that with everyone we have here, working hard each and every day, our expectations of excellence will continue for all of our students.

What an honor and privilege it has been to be a part of the Randolph community these past years! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the academic achievements, the state championships, the countless excellent lessons I’ve observed, and most of all, the relationships I’ve enjoyed with so many of you. A huge part of my heart will always be a Cardinal!

A Personal Thank You to My Father in Law, Fred Moritz

This Saturday, October 24, 2015, my husband will be accompanying his 92-year-old father, Fred Moritz, to Washington, DC on the Honor Flight Buffalo for World War II Veterans. This opportunity brings veterans to DC to see the memorials erected in their honor, all expenses paid. As veterans are not permitted to bring a spouse as guardian, my husband Derek gets to go with his dad. As part of the experience, Fred’s grandchildren were asked to write letters to him in which they express what he means to them. I’d like to take the opportunity to publicly honor the man who shaped so much about my husband and all five of his grandchildren.

 

Papa and Grandkids

Dear Papa,

I’m so very grateful for the opportunity to know you and to call you first dad and then Papa. As a nervous young college student, I came to Gowanda after dating your son Derek for a couple of years. Since Derek was my first boyfriend, I remember feeling very nervous about how to act when I met his parents. That feeling dissipated within moments of meeting you as your open, warm and generous spirit greeted me at the Palm Gardens. You then proceeded to take me on a tour of everything from the kitchen to the basement of the motel! From that first day, you treated me like someone special and what I most remember is always being able to sit and talk with you in those round chairs in the living room. You showed a genuine interest in me, my thoughts, and my career. You really listened to me, as you did with all of us. All of these years later, after almost 29 years of marriage to your son, your kind, caring and positive attitude continue to guide our family. Thank you, for every conversation, laugh, and dinner you bought. Most of all, thank you for being the man who you are–the man who so greatly influenced the man I married and love. Here are a few of the things I most remember from all of these years together.

You are generous to a fault. If you have $100 in your pocket, you find a way to give any one of us $120 if we need it. One of us can’t mention our own vehicle without you saying, “take my truck!”

Whenever any one of us messes up, you are the most supportive, loving parent we could hope to find. Before Derek and I were even married, I smashed that Capri I drove into a guardrail on Broadway Road. You and Derek showed up and instead of yelling at me as I was expecting (my own dad’s typical reaction), you both embraced me, asked if I was okay and told me it was just a car.

Even when Derek, Charisse, Bill and I were young and in our heyday, you could ALWAYS drink the rest of us under the table. We’d all wake up the next morning, hurting from the night before, and you’d be singing in the kitchen telling us, “you can’t soar with the eagles if you’re going to hoot with the owls!” But somehow you always managed to do so.

Thank you for teaching our children to dive, all five of the grandkids, with countless hours in that pool. A favorite family memory is definitely the day you were sitting by the pool, having cocktails with your friends and you suddenly decided one of the kids wasn’t diving quite right so you decided to show him how it was done. Fully clothed. Snookered.  With $100 dollar bills floating to the surface around you.

Those chickens. I will forever walk through the yard with my head down looking to avoid the chicken poop thanks to the ridiculous number of chickens you kept in the yard. For the tolerance of this alone, my mother in law deserves a medal. No one ever has loved a pet more than you’ve loved those darn birds.

When my own father was absent from my life, you stepped in and treated me with kindness and compassion and love. Thank you for always being a father to me. 

Because of your example, a valued family trait has always been chutzpah. Or in your words, “balls”–nothing worse than being a dunkie, right? I’m grateful that you helped us to instill courage into our children–the ability to take a risk and to stand up and do what’s right. I’m so very thankful that I’m married to a strong man who’s raised our own kids to be able to take care of themselves. I’m certain that even now at 92 years old you wouldn’t hesitate to use a quick right hook if needed.

Thank you for the great advice you gave me about how to drive in the snow on the way home from Forestville 30 years ago. I still hear your voice when I’m nervous on bad roads, “a constant speed Kim, slow and easy”.

Warning to Readers: There is some questionable language coming up–this post is intended to honor and memorialize Freddy for our family, which means including the expressions our children have grown up with. We have so many colorful expressions thanks to Papa, many that no one seems to know but us–our own family language: Papa

  • “they’re going to find her at the bottom of the bird cage”
  • “tell him to go piss up a rope”
  • “too many chiefs, not enough Indians”
  • “big as a horse”
  • “dumb as a box of rocks”
  • “you can’t get a racehorse out of a jackass”
  • “if I had a dollar for every time. . .”
  • “he’s a real dandy”
  • “SHUT THE DOOR!”
  • “that one’s getting whippy”
  • “next time, I won’t have my hat in my hand”
  • “have a hot toddy”
  • “they’ve got brakes, let ’em use them!”
  • “too stupid to get out of the rain”
  • “can’t find his a** with both hands” also, “doesn’t know his a** from a hole in the ground”
  • “lazier than a white dog”
  •  And who hasn’t been called “joe balls” by Papa?

Papa, I’m forever grateful for the model we have of how much you and Omi have loved each other for 50+ years. This is your #1 contribution to our family. Even when you’re constantly busting her chops, telling us that you slaved all day to prepare a meal when you couldn’t make toast if necessary or yelling at her to “sit down!”, you both stand as a clear and beautiful example to the rest of us of how to love one another, to make a family together and to stand beside each other through it all.

I love you Papa. I hope you and Derek have a fantastic day on Saturday. You definitely deserve this honor!

Papa and Derek, Charisse, Omi

Remembering Donna Shook Mormur, on Secretaries Day

When I was a little girl growing up in Pittsburgh in the sixties and seventies, my mother worked as a secretary at Jendoco Construction. My memories of her as a working mom during those years are dear to me still and I believe influenced me in myriad ways as a working professional woman today. I hold Administrative Professionals Day–(really?)–Secretaries Day dear because I have the utmost respect for the work that my mother did for most of her life.

For the last ten years of my mum’s life, she didn’t have it easy. We lost her a year ago at only 70 years old and in the end, she was constantly writing in notebooks–everything from recording her medications to her thoughts to her prayers. I believe that brought her comfort as it was much like she spent her life, taking notes, writing letters and memos, taking shorthand back in the day and preparing bids. I know she was a valued employee and that her work mattered because the people she worked with were like family to her. The company picnics, the dear friends she made and loved, the Christmas parties and the colleagues who emailed, called and visited her during her illness–they were as much a part of my mother’s daily life as we were.

Maybe it’s in watching her that I developed my deeply held belief that no position is better than or more important than any other in an organization. We all play different roles and when we work hard, with integrity and good intentions, we all contribute to the health and success of the organization, just in different ways.

When it comes to the day to day life of our school, many others are more important than I am–to the child who’s sick and needs the school nurse, or the parents who need information from a secretary, or a young student whose bus driver notices that no one is at home and so doesn’t drop the kid off at an empty house, or the teacher who needs a cleaner or custodian because a student has gotten sick in the classroom—those members of our school community are much more important on that day than I am. As teachers and administrators, we are central to the mission of a school, but it’s the support staff who do all that is needed to allow us to teach.

I’m incredibly grateful to every hard working, caring, dedicated employee at RCS. I’m thankful that my mother taught me that no one is better than anyone else, that no one is perfect, and that hard work and dedication are worth it.

Happy Secretaries Day to every wonderful, dedicated secretary doing the work each and every day! Of course in my mind, as good as you each are you’ll never measure up to my mom–but then, neither will I.

 

Would I Opt Out My Own Child? No.

I have a wonderful friend with whom I get to talk about education on a regular basis. She texted me to ask if I think she should opt her child out of the NYS testing. I didn’t answer her as a school superintendent, or a NYS public educator, or a former NYSUT Committee of 100 member, or a writer. I could answer her as a friend, who cares about her children and wants what’s best for them. As a school superintendent, I’ve written about this subject before here and here and here in previous years. Here’s my response to her question:

No. Don’t opt your kids out of NYS testing. Do we want to teach our children that they don’t have to sometimes do things that are hard? Or that if we don’t like something the school or our boss or our parents decide, we can just say, “no thanks, I’ll pass”?

Instead of opting out–which I believe is much more about teacher evaluation tied to test scores than it is about the effects of testing on our children–talk to your kids about the purpose of the tests within our school system. Say, “this is a way for you to show what you’ve been learning all year. It’s a way for your teachers to measure what they’ve taught. If a lot of the kids in your class miss the same questions, the teachers know they need to do a better job with that material next year. The tests are a way for the school to know how they’re doing so they can keep improving.”

I would also go on to talk to my child and say, “testing isn’t something to stress out about. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll not do as well as you want? There’s no terrible consequence. Just do what you always do, go in and give it your best shot. Take your time and read the questions carefully.”

Yes the APPR changes for next year are a disaster and I disagree with the governor’s education reform on several key points, including making student test scores such a significant portion of our teachers’ evaluations. So let’s make noise about that, let’s advocate for a fair and accurate measure of evaluating teachers, which I do believe includes some measure of student performance. Let’s work together–teachers and school leaders to develop plans that work. We don’t even have the guidelines from NYSED yet. The APPR plans we have in place right now don’t use test results to a ridiculous proportion–our teachers have done well under our current plans. Why opt out next week if what you’re really upset about are the changes for 2015-16 that we don’t have details on yet?

 

My Social Media Mistake

Gosh darn it. Have you ever done something that afterwards you thought, “I’m an idiot”? I made a mistake last week that I can’t erase, I know better, it reflected poorly on me and I’m so sorry.

Social media. Ugh. I’ve tried to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with our school community–primarily about all of the positive things happening here–and last week I totally blew it.

Calling snow days, cold weather days, making good decisions for the students–all of it results in emotional responses from parents, faculty and staff who weigh in on both sides of the issue. I can’t reiterate enough how many conversations with staff here, the highway superintendent and my colleagues in other districts  go into our decision. I always prefer to have our students here in school, that’s why we exist! I do think about the finances too–how much our payroll is for 186 days and that every time we cancel, we lose that day of productivity.

But that’s not the point of this post.

Last week I received a “tweet” from our students regarding the cold weather call we made to pick up our students door to door and to be in session on Friday. It was a short video that showed our students at play practice responding to my all-call that we would have school the next day. It was awesome and I loved it.

Then I tweeted–which goes to 800+ followers and then links to Facebook–a tweet that I meant primarily for those same students but of course went to everyone. I forgot about audience and perception and my professional role that is required as superintendent that is beyond being “tongue in cheek” with our students. It was a mistake. I’m not explaining it away–I was wrong.

For everyone who read my tweet that included an emoticon that showed me blowing a kiss–believe it or not, I meant that to say to our students, “love you!” but I can see that it didn’t come across that way. I also said, “giving you your money’s worth”–which led readers to interpret that money was more important to me than student safety.

How stupid I was! I cannot expect people who don’t even know me to “get” my message, delivered in 140 characters. The tweet was unprofessional and I should know better. I will not make the mistake again, we’re better than that–high expectations for everyone in our district starts with having high expectations for myself first.

Working/Stay Home Mothers

Paparazzski PhotographyI’m bringing back this blog post from 2007 for my daughter Bryna and all of the other working moms out there–to point out the benefits of a rich work life. As Bry headed back to work today, with her beautiful son Blake just over two months old, she was filled with excitement to see her work family and students and with guilt for leaving her little boy.

Bryna comes from a home in which I’ve always worked, both of her grandmothers worked, lots of moms worked. She also has a close aunt, Charisse,  who was a stay at home mom. What I know for sure is that while I was feeling guilty for not having home cooked meals on the table or sending her brother to Charisse’s house for day care, Charisse was feeling guilty for not adding to her family’s income or providing the same vacations we did. Here’s the thing–it doesn’t matter! The kids all turned out well as adults, they were well loved and supported in all that they did, and they all survived. Mine without the home cooked meals and hers without as many vacations.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes, with a million different configurations. Let’s stop judging each other and more importantly OURSELVES. At fifty years old I’m finally learning to say, “this is who I am and who I am is good enough.” Took me long enough.

Moms: Stay home if you want. Go to work if you want. Whatever you choose, give yourselves a break–that choice will dictate different things for your family–not necessarily better or worse things, just different.  Most of what you’re worrying about is craziness, live and enjoy–stop needlessly wasting mental energy on guilt. Just love your babies.

Love,

“Grandmother”

In Memory of My Mom, Donna Lee Mormur

My mom

The best person I’ve ever known passed away on Friday, March 28, 2014. It’s her words I speak when parenting my own children, it’s her thinking that drags me to work even when I’m sick, and it’s her advice that still guides me now, at 50 years old.

My mom was raised in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of a stay at home mom and a father who worked his way up from mailman to postmaster with two younger brothers, Bob and Jeffrey. Her dad was one of 13 and her mother was one of 3 so family was absolutely everything in her life. Her aunts, including Linda Sue who was a year younger than my mom and never let her forget it, were a source of great love and joy to her throughout her life–her dinners with the aunts were treasured.

To this day I think my mother’s natural class and grace, something our beautiful daughter Bryna inherited, came from her Grandma Houston who immigrated from England. Unfortunately I think Bryna also inherited her germophobia from my mother, who was known to carry two combs in high school-one to loan and one to use.

At about the age of 17, my mom went to a dance. Undoubtedly she was with her friends Alice and Susie and it’s there that she met my dad. There’s no one on this earth that my mother loved more than her own father, except my father. He was trouble in every imaginable way including dragging her across the country when I was only one month old so that he could work in the mines in Montana. It wasn’t long and my mom came home to live with her parents. My dad followed shortly afterwards—setting up house with all of the other hooligans on Francis Road in Plum Borough, until we moved to Renton where there were, of course, more hooligans.

Now if you knew my mom and if you know my dad, then you know that two more opposite people have probably never married. In exasperation, (because my dad could do that to me) I asked my mom, “WHY did YOU marry HIM?” to which she always replied, “I just knew I had so much love in my life and I could give that to your dad.”

Well he definitely returned that love. It took him a while to grow up and to learn how to show it but no one could have loved my mom more or taken better care of her over these last ten years, and especially the last two. Thank you Dad. The last words I heard her speak, in the throes of her last hours, were to my dad, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”Dad and Mom and Me

So what lessons did I learn from my mom? While listed in my mom’s vernacular, if you think about them–they’re not a bad guide to a happy and healthy life.

  1. Avoid public restrooms at all costs.
  2. If someone is picking you up, you’d better be standing at the door when they arrive because they’re doing you a favor.
  3. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.
  4. Get a grip!
  5. Good friends make life much better.
  6. Don’t EVER lie (and that was delivered with a smack on the bum at the age of 5, I remember it to this day.)
  7. When mad at my husband, she’d listen to me complain and when I got all done she’d say, “it’s not really worth it Kim, just go give him a kiss and tell him you’re sorry.”(I would think, “did she listen to a word I just said?!”)
  8. Don’t put your kid on a pedestal cause it’s a long way to fall.
  9. No one is perfect, don’t expect your kids to be.
  10. And most important of all, that I could do absolutely anything I put my mind to–my mom is the one person who throughout my entire life believed in me, thought the best of me and loved all of me, even the ugly parts. And no matter what happened, or how hard I fell, her constant response to anything was, “you’re fine!

My mom was loving and caring and thoughtful. She was NOT, however, a patient woman. At Jendoco, where she worked most of her life, I pity anyone she ever trained on anything because GIRL, you better get it the first time! And she told me of a time when her colleague Scott was walking by her office on a Monday and my mother, always polite to a fault, said, “good morning Scott, how was your weekend?” When Scott walked in and sat down to tell her, my mom SAID, “wait a minute! I don’t have time to actually hear about it!”

My children got to witness this infamous LACK of patience when they were little. We got into her car in a parking lot and when she looked to back up she saw someone and said, “oh it’s okay, she’s got a walker.” It wasn’t a five count later when she turned around and said, as only my mom could, “what the hell is she doing back there?!” And yes, they learned the Pittsburgh word “jag off” while riding in the car with their Mimi. See, no one is perfect. 🙂

I can honestly say that the one person my mom had enormous patience with was my brother Ziggy,  “the Prince”. And that’s just because he wore her down, day after day. It was an amazing thing to me as he did one thing after the other that I wouldn’t have dared to do and yet she just loved that kid without fail. Her only regret was being too ill to play on the floor with his 6 year old daughter Kaylee as she did with my two kids. She loved her three grandkids for everything that they are, just as they are.

Even in the midst of my mom’s debilitating and heartless illness, she was looking for a lesson to be learned or someone she could help. She always wanted to be of some use. I found 9 or 10 notebooks in which she’d journaled over the course of her sixties, a decade dominated by her litany of auto-immune disorders. In August, 2011 she posed a question to herself, “In ten years, what do you want to be known for?” Her answer, “being a child of God and raising two great kids.” Next she asked, “What kind of personality do you want to be known for? giving and loving”. And finally, “What three things would you change about your life right now if you could? To stop worrying, not to have this disease, and to just relax and enjoy life”. Always working on herself while accepting us exactly as we are—except for our son Tallon. Her last lecture to me two weeks before her death was in regard to him. She said that people needed to stop telling him he’s handsome because that’s not going to sustain him—it’s what’s on the inside that’s important. She said “don’t get me wrong, I love him and I see how handsome he is, but that’s just not important in life.” Duly noted Mom.

My mom was a beautiful example of class and grace and kindness and love. She inspires me still to try to be a better person. And at the same time, I know she loves me just as I am, ugly parts and all. We were all lucky to have known her

Continuous Improvement at 49

I suppose it could be the advent of the new year. Or maybe the fact that it’s very quiet here at school this morning. Or it may even be turning 50 in another week. But something’s definitely got me thinking about the big picture, life in general and where I go from here. Yeah, it’s probably that 50 thing. And no Dad, I’m not finally having the mid-life crisis you’ve been waiting for since I turned 40.

What I am having is a look at my life, both personal and professional. As my mom has always encouraged me to do, let’s look at the pros and cons, the good and the bad of life at this juncture of turning the big 5-0.

Plus Side/Pros/Assets/Strengths

1. Two great kids.

a. Bryna. Married to another great kid, Cory. Both with solid jobs making good money, house and property (in the Randolph school district–bonus when they finally get around to giving us a couple of grandkids), they’re devoted to each other and obviously in love.
b. Tallon. Graduating from St. Bonaventure with above a 3.0, Deans List a couple of semesters, treats his mama with respect and love, does anything his dad asks him to, headed in all the right directions.

2. Derek. Husband of 26+ years. Still loves me, puts up with whatever I manage to throw at him and I still look forward to seeing him at the end of a long day. Collaborator, partner, friend, love.

3. Family. Derek and I have our parents to talk to, to love, to drive us crazy. My brother and Derek’s sister have beautiful families with terrific spouses and great kids. We all seem to like each other very much.

4. Friends. I, simply stated, have the most incredible friends imaginable. They are fun and funny and they are there for me and love me even when my ugly shows. Took me a very long time to learn this but I understand it now. Friends don’t have to love us but they seem to manage it anyway. Thank you.

5. Career. (Notice how I’ve got my priorities straight–career didn’t come first. And yes, took me a long time to learn this too and I may not be honest here but I know it should be this way, that’s a start.) I love my work, the day to day, the people, the KIDS, the challenges. Not everyone can say that either. I’ve got great coworkers, an incredible BOE, and really good friends among my superintendent colleagues.  I like coming here every day and genuinely appreciate all that I have in my professional life.

Minus Side/Cons/Liabilities/Areas in Need of Improvement

1. Longevity. I don’t want this life to end. It’s big and beautiful and messy and I hate thinking I’ve got maybe 20-30 years left. Or one, who knows. So I’m going to try to put this out of my mind–no control here anyway. Make the most of every day and all that.

2. Health. Why is it that we work all of our lives to do our best, to improve, to take care of ourselves, to make a difference and in later life we may be riddled with physical illness, difficulties, indignities. I don’t like this, it’s not fair, it makes me angry and sad. As my mom says, life’s not fair and we just have to suck it up. Life doesn’t owe us anything. I do wish it would go a bit easier on her, my mom, though.

3. Career Success. I want to do a better job here at Randolph. This week. Next week. And for the next however many years but at least six. The Winter Break always pushes me to consider all of the things I can do better like reaching out to every employee and listening, giving positive feedback and praise when due, visiting more classrooms, writing and communicating more effectively with our entire school community, knowing more of our students and parents, putting together a smart, necessary capital project that’s good for our students and community, attending more events here at school—and—continuously improving my own work performance and the performance of our entire school community. Always looking to those areas in need of improvement.

4. Exercise, taking care of myself. Yeah, yeah. Need to exercise more, eat less, eat healthier. I’m trying!!!

5. Being a better friend. Making my friends a priority, especially those I seldom see like Lisa. Lisa is my college roomie and we now meet once per year in Chicago, for St. Patrick’s Day, and I look forward to it all year. No matter how busy life gets, I know we prioritize each other and our life-long friendship that weekend.

And my resolution for 2014, the same one I seem to have made for the past 30 years–to stop swearing. I’m a smart enough woman to use better words than those so if you hear me messing up on this one, call me out please. Have a wonderful and happy new year and when you see this old lady at 50? Be gentle.

Remembering Larry Wells and the PVCS Class of 1996

I learned of the death of Larry Wells, a young man who I had the great privilege of teaching at Pine Valley in the 1990’s, via the local news and social media. Later this afternoon, I will attend his wake at a Forestville funeral home. I’m writing today to remember him as I knew him, not as the victim of a violent crime as has been widely reported.  Larry Wells 8th grade

When I was a young, first year teacher at Pine Valley Central School in 1990, Larry Wells was a member of my seventh grade class. As a Spanish teacher in a small district, I then taught that incredible class for four years to follow. If you’ve never attended or taught in a small rural school district, I’m guessing it may be hard to imagine what it’s like.

The students know each other, and all of us as the adults working with them, extremely well. I remember entering those classes with my teaching materials on a cart as I taught in various classrooms and had hardly a clue as to what I was doing. Clutching my college notebook, I greeted my seventh graders with the best that I knew–and it wasn’t enough. They were an energetic, close knit handful and I didn’t yet have the skills to teach them well. Luckily, I attended some excellent staff development training early on where I learned cooperative learning techniques. I returned to school the next day, took each class out into the hallway and said to them, “what I’ve been doing wasn’t good enough. From this day forward we’re going to re-enter that classroom and try something new”. They became accustomed to my efforts through four years of classes with me (what a privilege to teach them for four solid years!) and would often remark, “oh no, she’s been to another conference, here we go!”

This was quite a crew, heavy on boys who couldn’t have cared less about learning Spanish. They were all about football from long before I taught them in seventh grade and eventually the boys went on to win the Class D, Section Six Championship. Larry Wells was an integral part of this class and that team. When considering my teaching strategies, I tried anything I could think of to connect my content to football–including elaborate peer tutoring ‘games’ for review that I linked to football.

Larry Wells was one of the best of the bunch. And his wife, then girlfriend Jill Lucas, was too. Larry and Jill were bright, friendly, caring and involved in everything. They were never in trouble, the class couple, devoted to one another. Mostly they joined me in laughing along at the antics of their classmates. Who could resist the humor of Richie, Max, MJ, Michael, Brent, Shawn, Justin or Tim?! Josh Roth and Larry Wells were never at the center of it, but they certainly enjoyed the fun as much as I did. And Jill was blessed with a great group of girls in that class too–girls who were about the only thing that kept that bunch sane.

Larry and Jill

I miss that class. I’ve never known a group of students better or hoped more for them. In my mind’s eye, they’re all just the same as they were ‘back in the day’ at Pine Valley. And something like what happened to Larry should never have happened. Not to him. Not to any of them.

Working in education for 24 years now, I’ve suffered the tragedy of losing students. The loss of Larry Wells to his family, to his coworkers, and to his friends is devastating. For the family that we were as a faculty and the Class of 1996, we grieve too.

All of my love, thoughts and prayers to Jill Lucas Wells and Larry’s loved ones. You are not alone, we stand with you in honoring and remembering one of the best kids I’ve ever known, Larry Wells.