Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Of Legacy and Forests

As a distance runner in high school, I have many fond memories of my school and athletic facilities, especially, of course, the track. When that place was the center of my life, I assumed that the school and the track would always be there. Yet, years later, my high school sold the property and moved to a new building a couple of towns west. Because of some political wrangling, and I guess for financial reasons, the old school stood for years, empty and decaying. Visiting the old school years later when I happened to be home for a visit, I discovered that there is something sad about a boarded up school that once teemed with promise of bright futures. But it was down at the track that I first started to think about the idea of legacy.

The infield of the track, which alternated as a football and soccer field when I went to the school, was completely covered with trees; a forest had reclaimed this territory! The track resembled a lost beach road, covered in sand and aimlessly winding in circles. It seemed that everything that happened there was lost. Years after that, the school property was finally sold and today is the home of a neighborhood of upscale houses. Who will remember?

Those who were impacted by being in this place.

And that’s the point of legacy. I don’t think a plaque on a wall for one’s efforts or a name on a stadium is really a legacy. I think that a true legacy is about the long lasting impact one has had on others. In recent weeks, two of our technology leaders here at Lower Merion announced their retirements. I don’t know if there will be plaques or even a retirement dinner or two, but for me, their respective legacies will be very powerful.

Ginny DiMedio, who headed our technology efforts in the district, took a department from nothing to a powerful force in our students’ lives. She is a woman who dared to enter the halls of boys who stamp their feet, and her disinterest in power made all of the boys who embraced power a little uneasy. She supported anyone who had an idea that would improve our students’ chances of becoming critical thinkers. Surprising at it might seem because everyone in education gives lip service to the idea of getting our students to think critically, few, in my experience, have the ability or even the desire to create programs that improve such; most seem content with the “data-driven” management styles that seem to keep everyone obedient and under control. Ginny the courage to be the opposite. And she was strong enough to allow other professionals to run with ideas that brought hope to students’ lives.

Bill Dolton headed the educational integration efforts in our district. Through his creativity and desire to put technology in the hands of students in a way that meant the improvement of educational programs, Bill brought a wealth of knowledge, energy, and caring to all of the students in this district. Bill created a professional development program that put into the hands of teachers the responsibility to mentor other teachers. He asked his mentor teachers to grow professionally and provided the means for that growth; then he asked those same teachers to share with other teachers and again provided the means for that to happen. It is a unique program that other districts have copied. And as Bill retires, that program has been cut in our district.

I suspect that there will be few plaques noting the contributions of two people who thought way outside the box. That forest of power will reclaim its ground as soon as possible. And just as my old school is now a tract of McMansions, their programs might or might not survive. But one thing is for sure, many professionals will never forget, and will be forever indebted, to both Ginny and Bill. Even more powerful, thousands of students, whether they know it or not, have had their lives improved because of the efforts of these two special people. And that is the truest legacy that anyone can leave.

Good luck Ginny and Bill. Even though you did not shoot for this, you have the admiration and respect of so many people. Even though the forest might reclaim some territory, what has happened in this place will continue to live and grow well into the future.


Don said...

Hi Peter,

I enjoyed your post this morning, and as I prepared to write something for my blog this evening, I remembered it.

I mixed in a recent discovery of mine: the smell of the remnants of an orange grove.

So thanks for your post, both for its beauty, and its metaphor.


Anonymous said...

I haven't been back to my second home. It was hard letting go. I had hopes that the vision would be appreciated and continued. From what I hear Data Management reigns as the predominant focus. I wanted so much for you to step in our place. But, perhaps you can make more impact where you are. I found this tonight and reading was bittersweet. Teachers must realize the power they hold. As I write, Dylan Thomas' words came to my mind. "Rage, rage against the dying of the Light." Be well, Peter. You will be remembered fondly by all those who know you.


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