SO SUPE ME

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.

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LEARNING AT LEHIGH- GROWING UP PROFESSIONALLY

Kutztown is only about 30 minutes from Bethlehem, PA. Lehigh University, best known for its engineering program is home to an educational administration program that is at the top of its game. After getting a couple of master’s degrees from the New School and Temple University, I was ready to take on a superintendent’s ticket and a doctorate. These were not idle endeavors. I was a principal, with a family and obligations beyond a regular 9-5 job. There were community things expected from me. I had been asked to join Rotary Club and encouraged by my superintendent to agree. There were looming events with my children and Carol’s desire to go back to work sometime when the kids were both in school full time.

There was Sunday school and eventual preparation for Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s which would take place on a week night basis. All of these things had to be worked into my taking courses at Lehigh and eventually into the writing of my dissertation. Fortunately, the staff in the ed. Admin. Department was populated with people who had done the same thing. They were former school superintendents and other workers in the education field. As I look back on my classes there, I realize that I had a monstrous advantage in my education.

You remember the school prayer case in 1963, Abington v. Schemp. Dr. Matthew Gaffney was the superintendent there during that time. He was my professor for school law- and what a course it was. I wrote some of by best papers in that class. I fell in love with statistics, even though I was not a math person. My professor ( whose name I cannot for the life of me remember) got me so enthused that I took an advanced statistics course and used many of the concepts in my dissertation. Dr. Bob Fleischer taught me negotiations from the view of the actual table where he had done it for many years in New Jersey. He was also an arbitrator and mediator and eventually led me down that path after I retired.

Perry Zirkel, who later became the Dean of the School of Ed., is still one of the national experts on school law. He appears most months in the Phi Delta Kappa magazine. My special remembrance is of my advisor, Charlie Guditus. Charlie had been a school superintendent in the William Tennet School District in Bucks County and was connected to many of the top educators in the state. Charlie was a jolly kind of guy with an eye on perfection. His smiles and quips were aimed at getting me to do the best possible work that I could do. On the other hand, he allowed me latitude because when I became superintendent of schools in 1977, I was so cramped for time, he made some exceptions for me. I owe him a great deal.

His view of doing a dissertation was that it was chance for both of us to shine. He had me take one year to actually come up with my problem statement. I know that sounds way out of bounds, but it eventually made my dissertation clear and important enough so that four subsequent doctoral dissertations followed up on mine. My dissertation led me to travel around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and meet some of the most talented supes in our state. My dissertation title was, “ Creative Problem Solving and Success as a School Superintendent in Pennsylvania.” There is no doubt in my mind that it was the signal intellectual achievement of my life. I could never top that work and I never have. The dissertation was chosen as the Best Dissertation at Lehigh in 1980. I was proud to get my doctorate that year and receive my diploma from none other than Henry Kissenger, who was the speaker at my commencement.

I still have connections to Lehigh today, other than contributions. I run into Lehigh graduates all over the state. Many of those who went to school with me have retired to do other kinds of work and some are now riding around on their chrome ponies, with long hair, leather jackets and a feeling of freedom of the road. Hello to you Frank wherever you are.

I LEARN TO LET THE POLICEMAN GO FIRST

At the end of my first year as junior high school principal I watched the buses leave on that last day and went into my office, sat down at my desk, put my feet up and let out a big sigh. I had made it through. Our family had moved up to Kutztown at the beginning of January of 1974. Carol entered our son Marc into the elementary school and Dara became part of the community pre-school in the Kutztown Park. It was a great community. There was a history to Kutztown that was hidden in the old records ( which I dug up). A Kutztown Community School existed before there was public education in Pennsylvania and it was still a priority in town.

Kutztown was all music, science and basketball. Not necessarily in that order. It was a very conservative place in some ways and quite liberal in others. You could do innovative things in the schools, as long as you did not advertise that you were doing it. The old Pennsylvania Dutch ethos was one of individual initiative and pride in their schools and communities. I was allowed to install a course on PA. Dutch history, culture and language in the seventh grade. It became a very popular course taught by our German teacher Dick Bond. Dick was a local guy who also doubled as a singer in the local oom pah pah band directed by Dave Moyer, our custodian. The idea of classes was also anathema to the local folks. There was the usual cast of big wheels. However, there was an amazing amount of mixing up and down social class lines. There was more a camaraderie because of a similar cultural background, than a snootiness of wealth or position. I remember driving in a Halloween parade in a 1960 Lincoln Continental with the Mayor and a local minister. The crowds threw nuts at all of us, not as a sign of disrespect, but as a signal that we were among friends.

The local people took care of their possessions with a ferocity that knew few boundaries. The old junior high building was really falling apart when I got there ( literally), but it was shined up to the point that it appeared to be someone’s valuable antique. The building was coal fired, as was the annex ( the original 1896 schoolhouse) across the street. Students had to cross the street ( closed during school hours) to get there. The boilers were always on the fritz and had shakers that automatically put coal onto the fire. However, one had to fill up the shakers and that took lots of time out of a custodian’s day.

I was the junior high principal and that meant more than just the educational leader. I was sometimes, a part time custodian, attendance officer, counselor to staff, butt of countless practical jokes ( one such was the time that the cream for my coffee was stapled to a string attached to one of the grates in the refrigerator in the nurse’s office and when I pulled out the box of cream it emptied into my suit jacket and pants). Our staff was filled with mirth and great educational ideas. They were the most unusual of people and many were related to each other. At the end of my first year, I asked my guidance counselor to explain all of that to me.

As I said, I was also a part time custodian. I was literally responsible for the building twenty four hours a day. This brings me to a very strange night sometime in my first year as principal. At two o’clock in the morning one Saturday evening, I got a call from one of our local policemen, officer Wyciencski. He was at the junior high school and the door was open. He felt that there had been a break in and that he wanted me to come over to check everything out. I tried to see the wisdom of me getting out of bed, getting dressed and going over there. I could see none, but did it anyway. I arrived at the school to see officer Wyciencski standing at the front of the building at the side of his car beckoning me to come over. I did. He motioned me to the door that he had found open and motioned for me to open and go in. Without thinking, I did just that. The building was dark and filled with sounds. The wind was blowing and the old building filled up the night with the most unimaginable groans, creeks and scuffles. I was frightened out of my gourd. Officer Wyciencski followed me on little cat feet ( I know where that comes from).

I trudged up the stairs to the second floor and thought that I hear a noise. I stopped and officer Wyciencski barged into me. I stood there frozen rigid. For a moment, I thought that I was being attacked. I was so startled that I let out a yell and turned around to see officer Wyciencski standing there shamefaced. It was at that moment that I realized what a dope I was. Here I was leading the charge into the building and the guy with the GUN was walking behind me. I can never forget that moment of clarity. It was the beginning of the end of my fearless march through life. Let the guy with the gun go first. A motto that I still carry to this day.