Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

August 21, 2013

RAY MOSCOWITZ: Elementary principals, teachers are key factors

They fill a critical need in the lives of our children.

MC Weekly

---- — “Tommy Richardson is bubbling like fizz in a shaken-up soda.”

That opening sentence in a story by Dann Denny, a veteran Bloomington Herald-Times reporter, yanked me into a piece about Richardson taking a new principal’s job.

After reading the story, my thoughts turned to Jerry Miller, David Hahn and several teachers at Pipe Creek and Blair Pointe elementary schools.

I know Miller and Hahn well; I don’t know Richardson at all. But one thing is apparent to me: The three men have a stellar commonality. They are or were elementary school principals who truly made or make a crucial difference in children’s lives.

To me, elementary school principals and teachers are the most important people in youngsters’ formative years, save for their parents.

I have long felt that teachers who toil in the first six grades — when cognition, values, principles and mores take root in young lives — fill an especially critical need.

The Tommy Richardson saga revolved around him becoming the principal of Fairview Elementary School in Bloomington after teaching for five years, being an assistant principal for one, and serving for seven as principal at another elementary school, all in Monroe County — and all after owning and operating a convenience store before deciding, at 40, to become a teacher.

“So much of that decision was based on faith,” Richardson told Denny. “For years, I’d had the desire to serve students, but one day I finally decided to take a leap of faith. …

“I realized right away that I had found my sweet spot — working with young people. This is what I’m meant to do. The kids inspire me.”

Kids inspired Miller, too, before he retired at Pipe Creek after more than 30 years, during which, at times, he did everything — teaching, counseling, lending a hand in the cafeteria, making minor repairs — whatever it took to ensure the school hummed along with happy kids learning and dedicated teachers and staff members applying their skills.

Hahn is stilled inspired as he starts his 27th year at Blair Pointe — the only principal the school has had since it opened. When he strides the halls, there’s an aura of respect accorded to him from students and staff. Before going to Blair Pointe he taught sixth grade for 10 years in Wabash, where he still lives.

Observing Miller and Hahn for almost 10 years was an education in leadership. They wore their professionalism on their identification badges.

I met Miller when I started walking inside Pipe Creek after the school day had ended. His savvy and charisma jumped out at me. But a new Maconaquah superintendent came along and decided that I could be a security risk. She booted me.

I hated leaving Pipe Creek after 7½ years. But my banishment turned out to be a blessing. Thanks to Hahn, who possesses the same characteristics as Miller, I became involved with Blair Pointe in a small way.

At both schools, I was eventually given the opportunity to walk while classes were in session. I ambled along late in the afternoon, which has to be the toughest time for teachers. But as I moved past walls adorned with students’ work, I could hear and see that learning was alive and well.

I did not get a sense that any teacher was doing an inferior job. That’s not to say that there aren’t inferior teachers in our schools. There are, just as there are flops in every profession — certainly in journalism, and, obviously, politics, if you consider that a profession.

My gut feelings about the teachers and staff performing well were confirmed as I engaged them in conversations after school let out.

They talked about their joys and sorrows, both in their professional and personal lives. I empathized with them — the frustrations they feel and strive to overcome, their love for their chosen work, their determination to excel, their desire to keep improving, their wish for more support from parents.

I could feel their dedication. It oozed from everyone — teachers, counselors, librarians, specialists.

I especially empathized with them when it came to leadership. I, too, had worked for great leaders — people like Jerry Miller and David Hahn … and, I suspect, Tommy Richardson.

Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at r.mosco@comcast.net.