Not sure that I can express the joy of those 4 years as principal of the Kutztown Area Junior High School. When you have an exceptional staff of teachers( guidance counselor included), who love the kids, treat them with respect, encourage them to do the best that they can, console them when things are not going right and have them reach academic heights, you know you were in educational heaven. These were not ordinary people. Many of them had talents outside of their teaching duties. They sometimes ran their own businesses- built homes, ran tree farms, bought and sold coins, and so many other things. They were hunters, fishermen, scientists, among other things.
They were personally helpful to each other and to me. The kids knew that they could rely on these people to get them out of jams and help them when they needed it. There were always youngsters who they could not help. They tried anyway. They were tough when they had to be and soft when that was appropriate. They were also mostly out of their minds. The kids knew that their teachers were nuttier than they were. If you know 7th 8th and 9th graders, you know that is an age that inspires crazy behavior. It is at the onset of puberty and the massive bodily changes that will eventually produce a mature human being. There is nothing so psychotic as an 8th grade girl awakening to her development.
I cannot tell you how many parents came in to consult with John Rohrbach, our guidance counselor, about menstrual cramps, including one mom who claimed that her daughter had her “menses” for 24 days a month. My favorite story about John, whom I still speak to every so often, is about a youngster in our special education class. She would request to speak to John quite frequently during the year. John had a flimsy couch in his office which he used to put kids at ease. This young lady came into the junior high office and requested to speak to John. There were no barriers to John’s time with kids. He was always there ( and that was provable) for the kids. The young lady entered John’s office and motioned for him to sit down on the couch with her. John did as he was asked and she moved closer to him and leaned over as if to tell him a secret and stuck her tounge in his ear. John came flying out of the office screaming at the top of his lungs. The young lady just sat demurely on his couch and smiled.
I said that you could prove how open John was. The state gave a statewide test called EQA ( educational quality assessment). There were some personal questions on the test relating to the accessability of the guidance counselor. 95% of the students said that they could go and see him anytime they needed to. We also did incredibly well on the academic portion of the test. Most of the grades were in the 90th percentile in the state. They were an amazing staff and I still have their gift to me when I left the principalship to become superintendent. Once picture is quite normal and the other is the staff dressed up in crazy costumes making the most inane faces. I loved them then and even more now over 35 years later.
In 1976, Dr. Candlewyck got into a passle of trouble. At the end of the 1975-76 school year, the school board had to raise taxes 25 mils. That was a major scandal in the town. We even had to go to Berks County Court to request money to end the year, about 325,000 dollars. You could not just go and borrow for operating expenses. You had to go to court and request it. The judge was not to happy with us and called us “dummies” and suchlike in his parting words. The school board decided to get rid of Dr. Candlewyck and began to advertise for a new superintendent at the end of the 1976 year. Dr. Candlewyck left at Christmastime and Harold Fleischer became acting supe. , but could not be the actual superintendent because he was not certified.
The advertisement for the job drew 144 applicants for all around the country. So much different than it is today. I was one of the finalists and due to my familiarity with the district and the folks on the school board I was hired on February 22, 1977.
There were some in the community who believed that a Jewish person could not be chosen to lead and essentially Pennsylvania German school district. Those were the older people. My friend in Rotary saw to it that my religion did not enter into the board’s deliberation. Ade Rolfe Floreen ( God rest his soul), the editor of the newspaper asked my permission to write an editorial about the situation. I told him that I never have censored anyone, personally or professionally. He wrote the piece and it was well received by the populace. I owe a great deal to my friends in Kutztown, Don Sharp, Gordon Konemann, Denton Fenstermacher, Don Buchman, Carl Beiber Jr., and so many others who stuck up for me and made it possible for me to become superintendent.
The superintendency started off with a bang, the forced closing of the junior high school, the weather related closing of schools across PA for a week, and the firing of the high school principal. That was just the beginning.