Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Principals and Principles, IV

from the 1984-1985 yearbook
Harmon Middle School
Here's one of my favorite memories of Jerry Brodsky, the fourth--and last--middle school principal I worked for:

Jerry had agreed to appear in one of our Eighth Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Shows; our theme that year was "Great Moments in Harmon History."  (Note: this was in the era before the cell phone.)  Harmon had only recently installed what was called the "student phone"--a telephone just for them, and the kids were ecstatic, almost as much as they were when the vending machines arrived in the school.  No longer would they have to ask to use the Office phone--and, of course, no longer would the Office have to deal with pesky kids asking to use the phone all day.

In our skit--"The Arrival of the Student Phone"--we made a big deal out of it: an unseen narrator announced its arrival as if this were Genesis and a new creation was about to happen; we boomed the music from Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra (hear on YouTube: Strauss), and then Jerry came out, costumed in some sort of royal/academic gown carrying the small table with the student phone; the kids on stage fell to their knees in mock-worship.  And the crowd went nuts.  Jerry pulled it off with perfect aplomb--never a smile, absolutely serious.  Absolutely funny.

And Jerry pulled off most things that way.  He had about him an easy, genial way with kids and colleagues--like Mike Lenzo, though, beneath that manner lay bedrock convictions about education and about schools.  Like Mike, he put kids first, a choice that didn't always sit well with those adults who put themselves first. And like Mike, he knew that the best way to function was to hire good people, find out what they needed, do his best to get it, and then then make sure the trail stayed clear.

Mike Lenzo.  Jerry Brodsky.  The two best administrators I ever worked for.

Below, I've pasted in the remarks I made when Jerry retired as Superintendent of the Aurora City Schools in 2005.  Some of it is snarky and wise-assy (the event was something of a roast as well as a tribute), but I hope, beneath it all, you can feel the profound respect and deep gratitude and affection I felt for him in our years together.  And still feel.

For Jerry Brodksy
Aurora Schools Foundation Banquet
16 April 2005 

            I knew Jerry Brodsky when he was fat.

            In the early 1970s when, pudgy and na├»ve, he arrived in Aurora, I was already a wily, jaded veteran of age twenty-eight or so.  I’d begun teaching at the middle school in 1966, the year the “new” high school opened—you know, that old hot dog of building now surrounded by the bun of a new one?  But in the fall of 1966 the “new” high school wasn’t quite ready for occupancy when classes started, so we were on split sessions for a month or so, middle school and high school sharing the building that now houses the Board of Education … and the office of Jerry Brodsky.  The high school had classes there till noon; the middle school started at 12:30.  I shared my room, #116, with high school English teacher Andrew Hobart, a man I looked up to then, a man whom I still consider one of the great teachers I’ve ever known.

            But one day that fall I came into Room 116 just before our afternoon session began and saw that someone had scrawled on the blackboard something … indecent.  HOBART SUCKS! it declared, leaving little room for misinterpretation.  I smiled.   Oh, these older teachers.  They just don’t relate to the kids the way we younger ones do!  But as I headed over to erase it, I noticed there was some smaller writing just below it.  I stopped.  I read.  DYER TOO, it said.  Now that’s the part I erased first. And thoroughly.

            Aurora was still a very rural community in 1966.  Four Seasons was the new housing development.  Ric Mattmuller ran the drugstore down by the tracks—the town’s only shopping area.  The office of the superintendent of schools, Robert Salisbury, was out at Lake School.  And by the end of the year I knew the name of every street in the township.  There weren’t all that many to remember.  And I knew, as well, that I wanted to stay here.  And the principal reason was the people.  My seventh grade students—some are now friends; I’ve taught some of their children.  The parents—so many were so profoundly supportive of their children, their school … me.  And, of course, my colleagues.  Eileen Kutinsky, Willeta Thomas, Jim Wright—I wanted the kids to feel about me the way they felt about them.

            I’d been teaching about five or six years when Aurora Middle School—as it was called then—got a plump new math teacher.  Jerry Brodsky seemed a friendly enough guy, liked to tell bad jokes and imitate W. C. Fields.  He was already into “creative combing.”  He liked the kids; they liked him.  But perhaps his biggest treat that first year was coaching middle school football, a game about which he knew little, as he was quick to admit in the faculty room—and even quicker to prove out on the gridiron.  From the sideline of that old football field in the early 1970s, Dick Shaw was the first to cry out in public that we ought fire Jerry Brodsky.  But no one listened, and here we are, decades later, honoring the worst football coach in the history of, well, of football coaching.

            Over the years Jerry has shed a few things.  Pounds.  Coaching responsibilities.  Jobs.  He’s held more jobs in Aurora than anyone else in the history of this district, which demonstrates either that he was moving up or that the Board just didn’t know what to do with him (oh, that damned tenure!) and so finally elevated him to the position where he could do the least harm.  You don’t want to screw up a math class—or a guidance office—or a building—and certainly not a football team—but, well, no one really listens to the Superintendent anyhow, so what better spot for Jerry?

            Jerry and I team-taught a class once, back in the halcyon Harmon days when the school offered some elective courses for the kids.  Ours was called “Comedy Club,” and we taught the kids to laugh at what we thought was funny.  Skits by Abbott and Costello.  A film about Laurel and Hardy trying to move a piano.  Charlie Chaplin on roller skates.  I’m not sure what the kids learned, but Jerry and I laughed a lot.  And since there was no State of Ohio Comedy Club Proficiency Test to follow, we just had the best old time …

            Actually, working with Jerry was always “just the best old time.”  He was a wonderful colleague (even though he taught about numbers instead of words), a sensitive and compassionate guidance counselor, a stronger disciplinarian as assistant principal than anyone would ever have predicted, a supportive and creative building principal.  I can’t speak about his time as Superintendent, for when I saw that was about to happen, I retired.

            Since the early 1970s Jerry Brodsky has been one of my finest friends.  We have stood together, arm in arm, at many of life’s mileposts—births; marriages; professional frustrations, successes, failures; grad school and law school; a teachers’ strike; Eighth Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Shows; some anti-Semitic nastiness masquerading as news in a now-defunct paper; family illnesses; family deaths.  And now retirement.  We watched each other’s children grow from infants into the wonderful young people they are today.  I love Jerry’s parents.  I love Cindy.  And Jerry knows that he has been much more than a friend to me.  He has been my brother.

            The years Jerry has given to this district have been gifts.  Othello, we remember, compared Desdemona to a pearl “richer than all his tribe.”  Well, each of Jerry’s years here has been a pearl—and, joined together on the string of time, they now form a necklace whose worth is beyond measure.  And tonight as we hold in our hands this priceless thing, we can respond only with deep humility—and boundless gratitude.


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