I GET MY REP ON THE FIRST DAY

THE FIRST DAY

The first few days of work in Kutztown Area Junior High in 1973 were taken up with getting a schedule together, trying to figure out how to operate a pretty heterogenous set of classes ( and failing) and getting to know the teachers. They were an amazing crew- mostly Pennsylvania Dutch, with a Moyer, a Boyer, a Lenhart, a Rohrbach, a Leibensperger and so on. However there were a few mixed in for good measure- from New York City, Philly, and Western Pa. Overall, I began to see them as quite a group. They all had senses of humor and practiced on each other. They pulled some of the most elaborate practical jokes on each other and later on me ( they once took all the furniture from my office and hid it in the building.

I looked forward to my first student day with some trepidation. I was now in charge and all things wrong would accrue to me and be on the first page of the Kutztown Patriot and on the editorial page. In the prior two years, things had not gone well for the school. The problems were ones of discipline and a lack of consistency. I kept my copy of Haym Ginott’s book in my office for the first year.

The busses pulled up for the first day and the 600 strong piled out of them, some of them walked into the building. They all were given their homeroom assignments and things seemed to be going well. By 8:00 all was quiet and serene and no 7th graders were left in the dust. At 8:15 the bell rang for the first period class. I had all of the teachers stand in the halls and kept things going. I wandered the building keeping and eye on what was happening- giving support to the teachers and keeping things moving. I went back to office when the halls were cleared and kind of stood at the front of the building.

Our 7th grades science teacher marched his class out of the front of the building to go down to the stream near us to get water samples for some experiments. At about 8:45, a dripping 7th grader, Mark Grider ambled up the front steps to tell me that he had fallen ( really) into the stream and was sent back to school to get dried off. There was an old teacher’s bathroom at the end of the hallway. I marched Mark towards it and told him to go inside and take off his clothes and give them to me and I would put them in the dryer in the Home Ec. Room. He dutifully handed me the clothes and put them in the dryer.
At 3:15 I looked at the buses pulling away from the building and issued a long sigh of relief. I had survived the entire day without a hitch. Without a hitch . . . oh my, Mark Grider. I quickly went into the school to the old bathroom ( having taken the now dry clothes out of the dryer) and called to Mark to take his clothes, get dressed and come out. He had been in the bathroom all day. I quickly called his dad Josh ( who was later to become a friend) and told him what had happened. Josh asked me if it did his son any good and we really had a good laugh.

That is how one gets a reputation. Screw around with Hillman and he will lock you up for an entire day.

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WE GO HOME

On a warm August day, Carol gets a phone call from the Kutztown Area School District in Berks County asking me to come up for an interview for its junior high school principalship. I had not even thought about the application and was hunkering down for another year at Woodrow Wilson High School. On a warm Summer day, I made the one hour trek to the superintendent’s office and waited until I was called in. There were three men seated in the room- one behind a desk and the other two facing the desk. The Superintendent, Sean Candlewyck, greeted me in a Southern drawl and introduced me to Carson Schmoyer and Vernon Kamp, both school board members. Dr. Candlewyck asked most of the questions and Mssrs. Schmoyer and Kamp wanted to know about me in a personal way. I was neither nervous nor concerned about the interview and told them what they wanted to know. I asked a few questions about the school, the community, the salary and benefits and when they might want me to start. They appeared to look at each other, as if to say, let’s give him the answers that he wants. That was a clue that they were interested. I believe when I left the interview, I was certain that I had gotten the job. When I got home, Carol told me that the secretary to the superintendent, Lorraine Dreis, has called and wanted me to call back.

Lorraine told me that I was being offered the job at the salary that we had discussed and when could I come aboard. I told her that I would have to give Bristol Township notice and get back to her. The next day, I went to the administration building to meet with Superintendent Weekly and told him that I was leaving and how much time did he need for me to stay. He told me that I was free to leave any time I wanted and asked me to write out a letter of resignation. Somehow, I did not trust Weekly and checked to see how many vacation days I had and other benefits that I had accrued over the six years of work in Bristol Township.

I wrote out my resignation, using a date that included all of my leave time, and submitted it to him immediately. I told his secretary that I would be going over to the high school to clean out my things and that I would be gone by the end of the day. Since none of the teaching staff were there, I went over to the high school and said good bye to the administrators, custodians and coaches. I left Bristol Township with no regrets and with a completely new understanding of my capabilities. I would never look back.

I went back home and discussed my timetable for the Kutztown job and called the superintendent’s secretary and told her that I would be at work the following Monday. She told me to report to her office to fill out some papers. The rest of the week was taken up with discussions of whether we should move to Kutztown, or commute the hour till we saw how things worked out. We talked to our children and told them about daddy’s new job. Dara, who was four did not comprehend, but Marc asked about us moving to a new place. Neither of the kids seemed concerned about it and kind of looked at it as a new adventure.

Our family has always been a unit. Even these days when our children are grown and there are grandchildren, we are still a unit, with more people attached. Our son and daughter-in-law, as well as our daughter and son-in-law seem to understand that and chime in when they feel they can. The four of us have a history that goes back over 40 years now and we share that with no one else. Kutztown became our home and even today we think about it that way. It was a small town surrounded by other small towns, Hamburg, Fleetwood and Brandywine and up country to Maxatawney, Krumsville and Klinesville, Kempton and Hawk Mountain. We still maintain many of the friendships that we made there. Sadly many of our good friends have passed away. We remember them fondly when we get together with our children.

My tour of the junior high school the following Monday led me to ask these questions; how come the building was still standing, how do you deal with a building that is divided by two streets, can you really fit 600 kids in this building and why is a building that was constructed in 1912 still around and being used. My tour also included meeting my new secretary Audrey Gougler, my head custodian Dave Moyer and a second custodian who just looked at me and scowled. I immediately liked Dave and Audrey. They were Pennsylvania Dutch folks through and through. They welcomed me and made me feel like I had been there for a while. I also met Harold Fleishcr, the Assistant Superintendent, who would change places with me in four years.

I began the work of looking at the schedule. I was fortunate to have John Rohrbach as my guidance counselor. He was a long time resident of the area and had actually graduated from Kutztown High School. He knew just about everyone. He also knew their nicknames, their dalliances and their freindschaft ( families). I was warned by both Harold and John not to speak of others in front of my staff because many of them were related. I did not heed their advice in my first year.

JACKIE ROBINSON

Lars Knudsen always invited us to a bar outside of Bristol Township when we had a particularly bad day. I believe the bar was called the Country Squire. Knudsen, McShea, O’Connell, and some others would go there at about 4 p.m. and sometimes stayed till two or three in the morning. I would go once in a while to keep my central office connections. On October 24, 1972, I was driving back from one of these drinking conclaves on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was about 2:00 a.m. when the news came over the car radio that Jackie Robinson had died. I burst into tears and pulled over to the side of the road. I stayed there for about 15 minutes to compose myself so that I could drive the rest of the way home.

I guess I was the right age to be a devoted follower of Jackie Robinson. I was a baseball freak from the time that I could remember. I am pretty sure that my father played against some of the teams in the Negro Leagues in the 1930’s. He had been dead for 4 years when Robinson became the first “Negro” player in the major leagues. His travails during his first years playing for the Dodgers are well chronicled. However, he meant something different to me. There was something so all encompassing about the guy. He was pretty much not afraid of anything. Even when Branch Rickey told him that he would have to turn the other cheek, he still exuded a confidence behind his silence. He was 28 years old and had been a star athlete in a number of sports. Baseball was not his best sport. He was an officer in the Army and had fought against discrimination in his own way- with his forward speech and an angry manner. He was brought up on court-martial charges for doing something right. He was acquitted and honorably discharged. He was a man’s man.

I was a Dodger fan through and through. I was proud when Pee Wee Reese stood up and told a hotel owner that the Dodgers would not stay there if Robinson could not be there with them. I guess my nascent “save the world” attitude found a home with Robinson and his teammates. By the time the Dodgers got into the World Series in 1949, I was in the hospital with polio. I listened to the games on the radio. Red Barber’s soft drawl was a counterpoint to the Robinson machinations on the field. No one has come close to the excitement of Robinson on base twitching and getting pitchers upset by his actions. He did steal home from time to time, so when he was on third base there was always the sense of anticipation. What would Robinson do? He brought back the stolen base, lost in baseball history from the early years of the game.

In 1952, I took my cousin Marty to a Dodger game at Ebbets Field. We go to the park rather early and were going in through the turnstiles when this large black man walked toward us in kind of an ambling pidgeon toed way and said “Hello kids.” I looked at the bright eyes and wide smile. It was Jackie Robinson in all of his glory. I said “Hello Mr. Robinson.” and he ambled by us to wherever it was he was going. My cousin Marty was stunned and could not speak for a little while. It was a signal moment for both of us. Not sure that Marty even remembers the moment, but it still is as clear to me now as it was at the time.

Jackie Robinson was so much more than a ballplayer. He gave so many people the opportunity to be themselves and to strive to accomplish things despite differences in their skin color, their race, their gender, their language, their handicapping condition. Yes, it all started with Jackie. His influence on the United States when so much further than just a black man playing baseball. The major leagues recognized this when they had all of their teams retire his number 42. He excelled at so many things, becoming the first African American executive at a major U.S. Corporation ( Chock Full of Nuts), his establishment of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and so many other things.

He began the movement for integration in this country. However, I will always remember him as that big guy who came into the ballpark that day in 1952, smiling and saying, “Hello kids.”

ATHLETICS UBER ALLES

One of the best high school principals I have ever encountered was John J. Brabazon. He took over the principalship of the 11-12 building, Woodrow Wilson High School in 1971. I was still the Human Relations Coordinator with a strong desire to get back to a “regular” job in a school. I approached Lars Knudsen and told him that I had no desire to keep roaming the streets and getting shot and strangled. He saw that I was very serious and told me that he would see what he could do. Knudsen had been using me to keep on eye on the pulse of the community as well as seeing what was going on in the other buildings. I mostly spent my school time at Delhaas and Wilson, but also visited the elementary schools. One of the schools was run my an autocrat who fancied himself a minister. He ran the school like a church school and had the teachers quaking on a daily basis. The teacher’s union had just started their first negotiations under Act 195 and was in no position to grieve any of these matters.

I spent a bunch of time with the principal and grew to like him in some way. He ran a good educational building, if education had not proceeded from 1874. He called people out over the loudspeaker system and had his coterie of spies in the faculty room. My job was to roam the halls and see what was going on and try and have some influence over this man. He hated and progressive education. Progressive in this sense means anything beyond memorization. One of his teachers was a student of the Summerhill movement, ultra progressive, laissez faire and constantly would challenge the principal. I mediated between them many times and finally got them to calm down and live with each other. I tried to explain to the principal that this was not a church school and one day it would all come back to haunt him. He was not impressed. He continued to do what he wanted, not brook any interference till the roof fell in a number of years later when a parent challenged the church music in the morning, the prayers during the day and all of the wall hangings.

Knudsen came back to me with this offer- I was to be the assistant principal at the high school in charge of athletics ( and by the way, fire the football coach) and do some discipline. There would be another assistant principal who would be in charge of discipline. I jumped at the chance, and accepted. I had known Jack Brabazon for a short while and was always impressed with his sincerity. To this day, and he remains my friend, you can see that all over his face. I have never heard Jack say a bad word about anyone or anything. That is 40 years worth of knowing a person. The kids seemed to love Jack and he was nuttier than any of them. The African American kids realized that Jack was color blind from the first time they met him. He was a doer and a pitch in kind of person. On a sign above the entrance to the school he had placed a banner that said, “ Through these doors walk the best students in the entire world.” That stunned some of the kids when they came to school the first day.

I believe that Jack had a knack for misdirection. His first act was to change the schedule to a modular one. He was a whiz at math and could see that by having the kids all pass in the hallways at once, there were always some kids that took advantage. The modular schedule changed the entire nature of the class changing routine. A mod was 20 minutes long and some classes, such as chem lab might be four mods, art three mods, phys ed two mods, and so on. I saw him create the schedule and it was sheer genius. He brought teachers in to get ideas from them about how to run the school and how to improve the curriculum. He befriended many of students on a personal level and led them on raising money forays- selling Betsy Ross Chocolates and poinsettias at Christmas time. He brought in famous DJs from Philly and had well known rock and roll bands appear at the school. He brought in speakers from all walks of life and made himself the center of activities. With 2,400 kids in the school that was incredible.

To show his popularity. He took a massive chance on Senior Day by allowing the kids to do the most outrageous things. They drove a VW beetle throught the hallways of the school and scared the dickens out of the teachers and other kids. He even rode in it. At the end of the day, the seniors went into his office, got him to come out and hoisted him on their shoulders and walked him to a nearby church and had him make a speech. Jack is some sort of person.

Meanwhile, I spent a good part of the next two years scheduling, unscheduling, 40 different sports. It was a circus. In Spring when it rained, we had to reschedule many baseball games and play triple headers to make up for it. Basketball was a tough job, with crowds divided between black and white folks when we played our games at home. Nothing scarier than to see people passing a bottle of something among fans and having to go up into the stands to take it away ( yes, I was crazy). I enjoyed the games and matches, wrestling, gymnastics, football, track, softball, basketball ( boys and girls). I pretty much went to all of these events and dances and concerts and oh so many others. I was at a point in my existence that I was being out five nights a week. Carol never complained. I missed seeing my children and decided after two years that was enough. At the end of the 1972-73 school year, I began to look around. This was further enhanced when Jack Brabazon got a job in another high school at the beginning of the Summer of 1973 and I was left with running the school and doing the schedule.

I knew that I was not going to be the principal of the building. The new superintendent, Israel Weekly did not like much about me and it was mutual. I began looking in earnest during the
Summer of 1973 and went on a number of interviews. I even applied out of state. Some of my interviews were very funny. I went on one where the superintendent and one board member interviewed me and they were sitting so close that I thought the board member was a puppet. I could not see one of the supe’s hands and it looked like he was moving the board member’s mouth. I also walked out of an interview after getting into an argument with one of the board members ( something I continued to do in my life). The final interview was as a junior high school principal in Kutztown , Pennsylvania. It was one of the luckiest times in my life.