My favorite principal died last week. Today is his memorial service. I really wish I could be there, but I’m hundreds of miles away, so I’ll remember him here today.
When I was an intern teacher in CUSD, Rich was a first year principal. He had been at my school as VP the year before. I didn’t meet or know him that year, but I heard a LOT about him. Everyone loved him, and when my intern year was over, my master teacher called him to tell him to hire me! Later he told me he’d tried to, but I ended up at another school with another principal.
A couple of years later, Rich was moved to my school. I was only with him for a year and a half because I took a study leave. About one month into the second school year, Rich told me I needed to attend the next board meeting so I could represent myself regarding my leave application. I had tickets to a Bob Dylan concert that night—I’d had them for months. I resigned myself to having to miss the concert, but Rich said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll represent you at the board meeting. Enjoy yourself and have a good time!” That’s the kind of guy he was!
When I returned to CUSD after finishing my study leave, I was placed at a different school. Using all that I had learned at the University of Northern Colorado about learning, disabilities, brain function, and instruction, I found myself in a LOT of trouble with a few parents. Turns out this was a very traditional school and they were expecting at least 35 completed worksheets to be sent home with each student every Friday. I’ve NEVER been a great user of worksheets, and now every Friday someone was in my room, counting how many worksheets each child was taking home. It was a very stressful experience for everyone involved, but during it all, Rich was defending and supporting me. At the end of that year he facilitated a transfer for me to his school. My transfer came through while I was on vacation in Hawaii. He called to tell me the good news, and when I found I couldn’t get an earlier flight home, he went to my old school, packed up my things, and moved them to the new school. Trust me, folks—he didn’t have time to do this. He was transferring himself to a year round school that was starting in a few days. When I got back, the day before school started, everything I needed was in my new classroom. A fellow teacher at the grade level had already run off double of all the materials she was using for the first two days, to help me out! I had never even met her! This is the kind of influence that Rich had on everyone around him. He motivated others by doing himself.
That was my last year with Rich as my principal. The next year he moved up to middle school, but not a minute before he had “rehabilitated” me. He spent the whole year talking me up to myself, the parents, the other teachers, and the folks at the district office. He put little notes in my mailbox, on my chalkboard, and on school communications. He asked my opinions and used them. He told my students how lucky they were to be in my class. Every time he spoke with a parent, he said something good about me. The rest of my career with that district was wonderful. Occasionally people talked to me about my “miraculous” recovery. It wasn’t me—it was Rich. And I’m not the only one who experienced such monumental support from him—it happened to many others.
Before I met Rich, I never thought much about principals. They seemed like paper pushers who introduced speakers at school assemblies, and ran meaningless meetings. Rich is the one who showed me what a true principal was. He set the tone for the whole school and staff. That school is the best school I ever worked at, and I’ve worked at 17 different ones! We had every educational philosophy represented among the teaching staff there. We had great staff arguments—lively, respectful, and fun! I grew more as a teacher there, than anywhere else I’ve ever worked, and most of my enduring district friendships began at that school. Rich was only there for one year, but I think he made a major contribution to that collegial environment. I know he did to my career.
Now he’s gone. Leukemia knocked him out in just 2 days! I’m totally sad, but I will be forever joyful for the little time I worked with him, and forever grateful for all he did for me!
Go with God, Rich! Blessings forever!