Friday, May 24, 2013

Time for recess, Mr. C!

Our first meeting was formal: in his office and I was armed with list of questions. I was interviewing him, after all. He would be my daughter's elementary-school principal and I wanted to find out what type of school he captained. I came away more than satisfied. We'd even had a chat about racism, which was on my heart at the time, as it is often, because of my heavy involvement in a local group attempting to understand and bridge the concern. He'd passed my test and I was comfortable sending my oldest to kindergarten under his care.

How was I to know just what kind of educator he would be and how he would influence and inspire my whole family, let alone hundreds of others.

Gregg Curless, beloved Pattison Elementary principal, is retiring next week. It hardly seems possible. Yesterday, I attended the volunteers' tea, where the school pulls out all of the stops to say thank you, and he hosted. I specifically went because it would be my last chance, perhaps, to see Mr. C and say goodbye.

I greeted him with a big hug and said, "This has got to be surreal."

"It is," he responded. "I feel like this (retiring) is happening to someone else. I remember my first day as a principal, walking into the hallway with a clipboard and wondering what I was doing. I think June 1 (his first official day of retirement) will be the same."

Pattison Principal Gregg Gurless where he shines best: in the midst of students
I do know Pattison won't ever be the same with his vacancy. No, his perennially smiling face, warm hugs and acknowledgement of every student and parent by name will be missing. But his spirit, enthusiasm, compassion and fairness will linger in his loyal staff and the memory of students and parents within the building, within the district and well beyond. Hard to tell how far his reach extends. Pretty widely, I'd guess.

I know with certainly that my girls are better people because of Mr. C. They felt recognized and affirmed by him and were utterly nurtured by his wise and skillful staff. Sure, there were a few bumps in the road, but Mr. C was always available with a groundedness and genuine love of being an educator that took the sting away.

As a parent, I am biased. He loved my children, but not just mine: he loved them all. He always showed genuine appreciation for any volunteer work I offered, adored seeing my husband at lunch regularly and praised the products of our parenting. And, he approached everything with a wonderful sense of humor.

I never heard an unkind word from staff members, which is pretty amazing given that he was their boss. They respect him. One of them on the new-principal-selection committee said she felt honored to help fill his shoes because he had been such a blessing.

When my oldest went to the junior high, she was stunned that the principal wasn't out in the hall everyday roaming among and greeting students by name. Well, honey, I said, this is junior high and Mr. Curless is not the principal here.

I will never understand how one person can have a memory bank that accommodates 700 names, plus those of parents and siblings and seems to grasp each family's structure. I can't even remember what I had for dinner last night.

Mr. C once shared a great story about one of my favorite neighborhood kids. Of course, the kid did something a little daring, but what the principal remembered was that he was honest about the action and that it really was funny, although I'm certain the child never knew he thought that. He understands people, how to motivate them and play to their strengths. Such a gift that has been given over and over, year after year.

I think it's time for your recess, Mr. C! Thank you.

• How has an educator inspired you?
• Who has been the Mr. C in your/your child's life?
• How can we acknowledge and show gratitude to those people?
• How are you a better person as a result?
• How do you experience the ripple effect of that nurturing?

My class this
week focused
on gratitude

not just
the action,
but making
it a practice

a way of

some very
people come
across our
paths as

one whose
mine frequently
for the past
won't be
there physically
after next week

but his
lives on in
my heart
and that
of countess
and parents


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