The Junior High
Written by Dr. Pelham Mead (c) 2013
(Kakiat Junior High school-1960–2000) Note all names of the real teachers have been changed to avoid law suits.
by Dr. Pelham K. Mead III
Disclaimer: This story is based on the true story of Dr. Pelham Mead and his 31 teaching years at Kakiat Junior Hifh school, Spring Valley, New York. The names in the story have been changed to protect living and surviving teachers today.
Chapter 1– Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL
The name Kakiat came from a local Native American tribe that used to live near the High Mountain town on the Canadian border in New York. When the High Mountain school district began to explode in student population in the 1960s, it was decided that an additional Junior Hifh school needed to be built. At that time, there were only two Junior Hifh schools, Pomona Junior Hifh school and Spring Valley South Junior Hifh school. The students at South Junior Hifh school were overcrowded in their school, and they were on double sessions for a few years. The board of education of the High Mountain school district put before the community a bond approval to build a third Junior Hifh school. This bond issue was meant to deal with the overcrowded conditions of the existing schools.
The Spring Valley South Junior HiGH school students’ population was being split in half to reduce overcrowding. Half of the Spring Valley South Junior Hifh school students would go to the new junior high and the other half would remain were they were. The Spring Valley South Junior high students were allowed to vote for the name of the new junior high. The choices were
- Central High Mountain JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
- Washington JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
- Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
The students in South JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL did not want to go to the new JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL; so as a spoiler, they chose the worst name they could. The name they chose was Kakiat, a name for a once-existent local Native American tribe.
In 1959, the then current assistant principal of South JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, Raymond Chisamore was to be transferred to the new Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL when it was finished in 1960. He was given the choice of the teachers he wanted to bring with him, so he chose his best friends, who were all department chairmen. They were all older men in their late fifties, and early sixties. This seemed like a good base from which to start a new junior with experienced teachers. Actually, few teachers transferred, only administrators that were selected by the new principal. All the rest of the teachers were hired as new teachers.
In 1960, seventy-five teachers were hired in the High Mountain school district to begin work at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. In 1967, fifty more teachers were hired at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. The hiring frenzy was to meet the ever-expanding student population expansion in the 1960s. Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL started with 600 students, and by 1975, its population had doubled to 1,600 students in the one building built for only 1,000 students.
When the fall of 1960 came about, the construction was not completed; however, the district moved the students into the unfinished building anyway. Construction delays caused the problem of not having the building finished on time. While teachers were teaching in their classrooms, workers were drilling and nailing walls together in the next classroom.
Bang, bang, mmmmmm, bang, bang. “And that, students, is why the Indians surrendered to the white man,” said Mr. Torres. Every day during first period, social studies, English, and science classes, the hammering would start usually in the middle of a lesson. Teachers were used to being drowned out. They complained to the principal. “Mr. Chisamore, is there something you can do to stop the hammering during the day?” asked Mr. Torres.
“No, Mr. Torres, I am sorry, but the work has to be finished now rather than later. Bear with it for now,” said Mr. Chisamore, the principal.
The noise problem made it difficult to teach without distraction. Teachers learned to write notes on the board in advance of when the drilling started. Once the drilling started, no one could be heard. A positive note was that none of the students were noisy or could talk among themselves because they could not hear one another.
The auditorium was half finished, with the seats not completely installed. Technically, it was illegal to occupy a building that had not been finished, but the district had no plan B in case the building was not completely finished. Somehow the school district managed to avoid being fined by the local building code inspectors.
No sooner had Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL been built than it became overcrowded, and an extension wing was planned for and built in 1967. A small gym was started in 1968 and finished by 1970 to accommodate the increase in student enrollment. A lot of problems developed with the heating and air circulation systems in the new extension, requiring more construction and repairs to be made. Some classrooms lost all heat and were as cold as the outside weather in the fall and winter of 1967. Teachers had to move classes to the cafeteria or auditorium or library when the classrooms had no heat.
A fire was started in a closet in the large gymnasium when a worker with a blowtorch accidently ignited the insulation in the ceiling while he was welding metal braces under the roof. Fortunately, the damage was limited to the storage closet, and the fire department was able to get to the fire fast enough to prevent serious damage. The real damage was water damage to the gymnasium flooring and a few dozen fried footballs and basketballs.
The boys’ locker room had showers but no hot water until the plumbing was fixed. In the 1960s, it was normal to give out soap and towels to students to shower after class. It was mandatory at that time. When the 1970s came in with the concern for individual liberties, students’ rights, and many lawsuits, it was determined that students’ rights were being violated when they were required to take showers. So the mandatory use of showers was abandoned and adopted as a district-wide policy. Showering after physical education class was strictly voluntary.
Eventually, a shortage in funds caused the expensive free towel and soap program in physical education to also be dropped. Eventually, only the sports teams would use the shower rooms. The end result was that the physical education students went to class smelling and sweating. Not many teachers were happy with that conclusion, with students sitting in their classes sweating and smelling.
The teaching staff grew from 70 teachers initially to over 120 teachers by 1975. Many part-time teachers also joined the teaching ranks, and teachers who traveled from one school to another. Paraprofessionals came into use and were known as “teacher aides.” They needed only two years of college to be eligible for the job. The district used to have team teaching, but paraprofessionals provided a cheaper approach than two paid full-time teachers to one class. For a few years, there was a program allowing a special education teacher and a mainstream teacher teaching a mixed-ability group of students, including special education students. Budget considerations would eventually cause that excellent program to be discontinued. The teachers’ union fought against the use of paraprofessionals and lost
Community voting on public bond issues was always difficult because the majority of the High Mountain school district was represented by Jewish private schools called “yeshivas.” The private yeshiva population grew from seven thousand students in the 1960s to fifteen thousand in the 1990s. The Jewish community had to be courted by the superintendent of High Mountain school district in order to secure their support of the public school budgets. Many trade-offs had to be offered to the private school community, such as universal busing, used textbooks, used school furniture, and special professional services. The Jewish community voted as a block against the expansion of the public school bond issues by busing Jewish voters to the voting poles. No public referendum could be passed without getting the Jewish community vote. The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parents were paying both for yeshivas for their children to attend and for public school tax. Under New York State law, the High Mountain school district superintendent was legally responsible for all public and private schools within the borders of the High Mountain school district. Therefore, yeshivas had to meet New York State Education requirements or they would not be certified. The High Mountain school district was one of only three major Jewish districts in New York State that had a significant number of students attending yeshivas (1990: 10,000 students; 2012: 20,000) instead of public schools. This meant that the formula for repayment to the High Mountain School from New York State did not include the private yeshiva students. The public school system of High Mountain did not get any revenue from New York State to offset the cost of carrying thousands of yeshiva students who were not in public school. This also included Catholic schools that had a much smaller number of students. This lack of funds from New York State would eventually cause the High Mountain school district to develop a major shortage of funds to pay for the school budget every year. The shortage of funds developed into
- a) Threatened teacher strikes
- b) No teacher contracts for three years or more
- c) Cutting back in hiring new teachers
- d) Cutting back in sports programs, such as elementary soccer, softball, and basketball
- e) Reduction in teachers and support positions
- f) Closing of schools
- g) An increase in Orthodox Jews on the public school board whose agenda was to protect the yeshivas at the expense of the public school
Concerned parents had to form their own sports associations to provide sports for elementary school children. This community sports program eventually grew to include junior and senior high students that could not qualify for the school teams.
The 1960s were a turbulent time in America, with the civil rights movement taking hold, Black Power, radicalism in student organizations, and the anti–Vietnam War movement. Coupled with the drug generation and the antiwar movement of hippies and beatniks, the 1960s and 1970s were troubled times in American schools and Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. These problems trickled down to the local level, with students mimicking what they saw on TV and what was happening in the media.
Student protests were the thing of the day. Fake bombing calls were also the fad of the 1960s and 1970s generation. Fake bomb calls came on a daily, if not weekly basis, and the entire school had to be evacuated every time. No one was ever caught. This fad went on for years until a principal from another school district had had enough of the fake bomb threats and decided not to evacuate the building. After that, many other school districts followed suit and made changes in their fire alarm systems with a yellow detection spray, video cameras, and a new approach to bomb threats. Twenty years later, bomb threats would be a thing of the past, just as the Vietnam War became a thing of the past.
Some teachers were considered militant when it came to anti-Vietnam policies, and that was unfortunate because they affected the minds of the children they taught. Militant teachers painted their rooms with psychedelic colors and logos to mirror the slogans of the times. Some of the militant teachers had long hair and dressed in blue jeans, and wore T-shirts with logos like “No war” or “Peace.” Militant song groups appeared on the music scene and could be heard in the militant teachers’ classrooms. One social studies teacher even had a toilet in his classroom for some unknown reason. The administrators did nothing to have it removed for fear of violating his civil rights. The administrators were useless in being able to stop the militant teachers’ activities. The antiwar issue divided the faculty, but no one would support an administrator trying to make a stand “for or against the war” or “militant teachers.”
The term “politically incorrect” came into play. Black students could no longer be called Negro students. “Black or Black Americans or African Americans” became the buzzwords. The word “nigger” was the ultimate insult for black students especially when a white student or white teacher used it. However, it seemed OK for one black student to call another black student a “nigger.” It became known as the “N word” for white teachers or white students. There was a lot of racism during the 1960s and 1970s, and many teachers tried to straddle the line but did not succeed. Expressions such as “your people” from white teachers or white students smirked of racism. Black parents and black students were very race conscious during these turbulent years. All of these issues translated to problems at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL as in all schools in the United States.
Teachers at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL had to be especially careful in their language and how they treated black students with regard to how they treated other students. The sensitivity of race issues was on the surface and would not go away. Many teachers got into trouble when they used language that was misinterpreted by black students. Black students would often run to administrators and tell false tales to get a teacher they did not like in trouble. The sensitivity of the racism issues during the 1970s and 1980s made teaching during these years difficult. Teaching during these turbulent times was no picnic.
One paradox was the militant teachers, twenty years later, cut their hair short and became part of the mainstream society, as if they were never militant in their lifetime. It was amazing how some militant teachers became moles for the administrators, after fighting the administration for so many years. It demonstrates how a teacher can go from one radical philosophy to the opposite administrative philosophy over a period of ten or twenty years. It shows that in time, you either conform to the rules and policies or get out. If a teacher wanted to make it to retirement age, they all had to change over time and become more liberal or conservative in their philosophical approach to teaching and issues of society.
Chapter 2 – Big-Breasted Ronnie Bronson, the Female Physical Education Teacher
Public school in New York traditionally starts one or two days after Labor Day in September. The day before that is the annual Superintendent’s Conference in which all teachers, administrators, and staff personnel are required to attend. In the morning, the superintendent of schools makes his speech on the condition of the district, and important considerations such as student enrollment increase or decline. After 1970, the enrollment peaked at Mountain High school district, as did other school districts in the northern part of New York State. The three junior highs were packed with 1,600 students each in buildings that were designed for only 1,000 students. Before Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL was built, the high schools had so many students that they went on split sessions in which the seniors and juniors came in at 7:00 a.m. and left at 12:30 p.m. The sophomores and transfer students came in at 8:00 and stayed until 1:30. This allowed the two high schools Mountain High North and Mountain High South to fit in more students over a shortened day to allow for sports in the afternoons.
In the afternoon of each superintendent’s conference, each school had a faculty meeting in their own building with the principal setting the agenda. This was the opportunity for the tenured older teachers to check out the new younger teachers that were mostly just out of college and a few young transfer teachers.
The principal would usually welcome all the teachers back, and then he would introduce all the new teachers to the faculty and staff.
Fall of 1968 Principal’s Welcome Speech
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to KakiatJunior High. I hope you had a satisfying and enjoying summer vacation. The other administrators and myself came back in August to set up the new course schedule, and assign teachers to all the classes. This year, we have gone from 80 teachers to 120 teachers due to the increased enrollment over the past summer. I want to introduce my two assistant principals, Mrs. Weiser and Mr. Dumfound. Mrs. Weiser, as you know, is in charge of the guidance department and scheduling. Mr. Dumfound is in charge of the school budget, purchasing of supplies and inventory in the school. Does anyone have any questions so far?
“Mrs. Ella Weisenfeld will be one of the new science teachers,” added Mr. Chisamore.
Bill Seeker leaned over to his friend Dick Nipp and said, “She looks like she lifts weights,” and they both laughed quietly. A few wisecracking older male teachers in the far back corner of the library were commenting to themselves, as Principal Chisamore introduced the new teachers.
After ten more introductions, the new physical education woman teacher was introduced. “And I have the pleasure of introducing Mrs. Ronnie Bronson our new women’s physical education teacher. Mrs. Bronson, will you please stand,” said Mr. Chisamore.
“Holy crap, Dick, did you see the tits on that woman? Wow, she must be at least a 46 triple D cup, and she has the guts to wear a sweater,” said Bill.
Dick laughed and said, “You are right, Bill, she really has a big set.”
So began the era of Mrs. Ronnie “Big Chest” Bronson. It may sound like a sexist statement; yet, in fact, Mrs. Bronson was happy in making a statement about her physical attributes to the entire faculty. Whenever she came into the teachers’ café, all the men would get whiplash turning their heads so quickly to watch her enter the room with the luncheon tray held outside her large breasts. She always dressed well in sweat suits and sneakers, although once in a while, she would forget, and wear shin-high boots.
The physical education department chairman, Gerald Levitus, was an elderly guy who always treated the women physical education teachers as second-rate teachers. He was a chauvinist from the old school style of thinking. He made sure the women always got the old physical education equipment, and they never got any new physical education equipment. He was a throwback model of the old days of male dominated physical education programs. He had inherited the department chairperson position when the previous chairperson moved up to the high school to become football coach.
The new smaller gym in the back of the building was called the “girls’ gym,” and they were sent back there to conduct their classes. When the boys played basketball, they got the larger front gym, known as the “boys’ gym.” Ronnie changed a lot of that old-style chauvinism. For the first time in the history of the Kakiat Junior high school, Gerald Levitus, the department chairperson, brought some new volleyballs and new basketballs over to the women’s physical education office to get on Ronnie’s good side. He was fawning over her, so it was embarrassing for the rest of the staff. Ronnie played him for all he was worth. Even though Gerald Levitus was married with five kids, it seemed to make no difference to him that he favored Ronnie.
It was the fall of 1968, and it looked like it was going to be a most interesting year. Having a female physical education teacher that was actually pretty good looking and not “butch looking” in the physical education department was a real novelty. The stereotype for a female physical education was not good in the 1960s because many teachers did nothing to enhance their physical appearance in the job setting. It was difficult to look sexy or good-looking in a sweat suit.
During the 1960s, the gym classes were separated according to gender. The female physical education teachers took attendance in all girl classes and played only girls sports. The boys, likewise, sat in lines of all boys and played only boys sports taught by male physical education teachers. There was no such thing as coed physical education or coed sports during the 1960s in all the schools in New York State.
It wasn’t until 1972, that a Federal Title 9 program “declared that all girls programs receive equal status in instruction and sports.” In addition, the Federal government required that physical education classes become coed, and instruction become coed and equal. The biggest impact of the new Federal Title 9 ruling was that the women physical education teachers had to learn how to teach boys’ sports, such as, football, soccer, softball, track and field. The second major impact was that women physical education teachers were now equal to the men and, therefore, had no special protection from men with respect to seniority on the job. Women who went out on pregnancy lost six months or a year in seniority when they came back to the job. In the past, they were protected because the male physical education teachers did not teach girls in the 1960s or before.
The equipment changed, too, when girls received equal instruction along with the boys. It wasn’t possible to have girls playing touch football with rubber footballs or leather footballs. They would break a nail or a finger trying to catch the hard balls. So the decision was made to use a soft foam ball called a Nerf football. They also came in a smaller easier making it easier to throw.
Likewise, soccer on a coed basis had to convert to using a Nerf (foam) soccer ball to avoid injuries. Girls weren’t forced to play with the boys, but they had an option to play soccer or football with the boys rather than the girls. The tougher girls choose to play with the boys, and the less aggressive girls choose to play among themselves. Field hockey and wrestling were considered not suitable for a coed curriculum and were dropped from the curriculum. The field hockey program was dropped because there were not enough field hockey sticks to equip an entire physical education program of 1,600 students. Wrestling was too physical, and society was not ready to see boys wrestling girls to the ground and pinning them.
New teachers usually had mentors to help them learn the policies and procedures in the school. A mentor showed new teachers how to write a lesson plan and how to complete their weekly course lesson plan. The department chairperson evaluated this weekly lesson plan each week. Gerald Levitus, the physical education department chairman, appointed himself as Ronnie’s mentor and made an effort to show her how to teach boys’ sports. The obvious reason for his mentoring was for self-gratification with working with a sexy woman.
Gerald Levitus had been teaching for ten years at the time, and he personally demonstrated techniques of teaching and handling large classes of forty-five physical education students to Ronnie. He seemed infatuated with her even though he was a married man. It seemed to puff up Sam’s ego to be working with such a good-looking female teacher. Ronnie followed Sam’s lead in learning how to teach all sports on a coed basis. No one else in the women’s physical education department got any special attention. The other women physical education teachers had to fend for themselves and copy what the other male physical education teachers were doing with Nerf football and Nerf soccer. Many of the physical education teachers developed an attitude toward Ronnie since Gerald Levitus was treating her like a favorite. Ruth was one of the physical education teachers that had done her fieldwork at Kakiat Junior high school and was hired afterward from New York University. She was a pleasant teacher who often did not get along with Gerald Levitus. She was well liked by all of the girls in the school and stood as an example of what a proper mentor and a teacher of physical education could be.
Ronnie became the fashion expert of the school. She wore outfits that would always accentuate her large breasts, and she loved the looks she got from all the male teachers. She was the first teacher in Kakiat Junior high school that could teach in a sweater indoors and not break a sweat. Ruth and Elise simply tolerated Ronnie and her fashion statements. The gym was always hot from the skylights, and being close to the school boilers, it was impossible not to sweat in the fall and winter months. T-shirts worked best indoors and sweat suits or matching warm-up suits were good for outdoors. The physical education men traditionally wore gray or blue physical education instructor pants with a black or white stripe down the sides of the pants. The physical education women wore matching sweat suits. Ronnie was the exception and wore whatever she wanted to wear. Sometimes, this included a skirt and heels, instead of sneakers. There was no standard issue physical education uniform for women at the time, although some women chose to teach in warm-up uniforms.
Elise Greenberg was oldest woman in the physical education department in her late fifties. She had a major drinking problem and missed at least one day a week due to her drinking problem. What made things worse was she would come to school wearing heels and a skirt even when the classes were going outdoors. She was a sight to see when she went outdoors, and she always got stuck in the mud with her high heels. She wore the big set of gym keys on a lanyard around her neck with a whistle connected to it, since her dresses had no pockets. She looked more like a substitute teacher that did not know what to wear when teaching physical education. Elise Greenberg had been at the Kakiat since it opened in 1960, having transferred from Spring Valley South High Junior high. She had been divorced and had a lot of personal problems that she brought to the job.
For some reason, she and Mr. Chisamore were personal friends and were often seen eating lunch together. This in itself was unusual, since none of the teachers ever ate at the same table as an administrator. There was a distinct, invisible barrier between the administrators (principals, assistant principals, dean of students, and department chairpersons) and the teaching staff when it came to eating during lunchtime. Peer pressure from other teachers frowned on teachers being friendly in the lunchroom with administrators. Many teachers chose to eat in their own classrooms and avoided eating in the staff cafeteria. Some teachers chose to eat in the teachers’ lounge where no administrator dare go for lunch.
Anyone team-teaching with Elise always learned to take the class attendance, rather than depend on Elise to take attendance. When the class went outdoors, Elise would eventually follow at her own pace. Her drinking problem really affected her performance, but no administrator bothered to do anything about it. Eventually, she had the highest absence rate for any teacher in the entire school (1969–1970). One day in May, she was called to the principal’s office. The principal “made her an offer she could not refuse.” She would retire at the end of the academic year or the district would bring her up on charges of “dereliction of duty” and prove that she was an alcoholic in an official hearing. Elise was old enough to retire, but in those days, there was no retirement incentive, and the retirement pension was very low. She decided to retire rather than have the district embarrass her in public. The administration forced her out of job despite her tenured position.
After the Federal Title 9 act was put into place in 1972, taking out eighty girls and boys at one time was a real challenge for some of the men and women physical education teachers. The classes were supposed to be split into two classes of forty-five students each, but for convenience, the physical education teachers grouped the whole coed class together. This meant that eight rows of ten students, in alphabetical coed formation, would be sitting on the gym floor, waiting for one teacher to take attendance. This inefficient method of class management came about because the other teachers used the extra time to go to the bathroom or pour themselves a cup of coffee in the office, while one teacher took the attendance.
In the 1960s, the new physical education teachers had illegally large classes of eighty to one hundred seventh graders, and Gerald Levitus had small classes of twenty to thirty ninth graders. Gerald Levitus was allowed to schedule all the best classes for himself. The standard procedure was for the education schedule to be turned into the assistant principal for approval during the summer prior to school starting that fall. Department chairmen also got an extra period off to supposedly supervise their departments’ teachers. This meant most department chairmen taught only three to four classes a day, depending on the size of the department. Physical education had six full-time teachers at the time, three men and three women. This allowed for Gerald Levitus to have one free period off each day. He used this free time during the eighth period to go outside and prepare the soccer field or baseball field when he was coaching these sports.
Mrs. Ronnie Bronson was selected to be the cheerleader coach because she was the only person in the school interested in coaching the girl cheerleaders. Many male teachers made it their business to drop by the gym after school to watch the tryouts for the cheerleading team. Watching Ronnie jumping up and down for the girls, and her huge breasts practically knocking herself out from bouncing around, was a sight to see.
The process of selecting cheerleaders was an exercise in overt racism in the 1960s and early 1970s. Seldom did a black girl ever make the team in the 1960s and early 1970s. What Coach Ronnie wanted was an all-white girls cheerleading team that could do all the typical rah, rah, rah cheers with no black emotionalism or jive talk. She was instructed by the principal and the department chairmen of physical education to keep the cheerleaders an all-white team of girls, but to go through the motions and make it look like all girls had an equal chance.
The administration at the time felt the black girls did not represent the entire white student body at Kakiat Junior High, and should therefore be kept off the cheerleading team. Historically, in the 1950s, Mountain High school was cited by the New York State Board of Education for racism in the placement of black students all in the same school. They were ordered by court order to provide racially balanced schools or have their charter removed. They never really removed the racial barriers and racial attitudes by the 1960s and 1970s.
Panels of white male and white female classroom teachers were asked to volunteer to help select the fifteen-girl cheerleading squad. Naturally, the pretty little white girls always performed the appropriate cheers, and the black girls always added clapping, and stomping, and body language that the white teachers did not understand. This went on for many years until change finally came to the cheerleading program after many parental complaints in the early 1970s and the Federal Title 9 law.
It was a month into the fall of 1968 when some of the students and teachers noticed that history teacher Joe Bigone was hanging around after cheerleading practices. He was also seen up on the hill during football games where the cheerleaders were cheering from the sidelines. Many suspected that Joe and Ronnie were a number despite the fact that Ronnie was married and Joe was single.
On a crisp cold day in October day in 1968, around 11:00 a.m., the fourth period boys’ physical education class was walking up the hill behind KakiatJunior High to get to the football field, at the top of the hill where they played touch football. At the top of the hill was a huge tar gutter to allow the water to drain down the side of the hill and prevent erosion. Physical education teacher Mr. Wise was leading eighty boys up the hill when they approached the gutter at the top of the hill. One of the students turned to Mr. Wise and asked, “Coach, what are those teachers doing in the gutter?”
Mr. Wise had just come over the rise in the hill, and as he looked down the tar gutter, he could see two teachers lying in the gutter in a tight embrace. He answered the student in a matter-of-fact tone by saying, “They must be practicing gymnastics logrolls or something.” They both laughed. Then the other students noticed the teachers lying in the gutter. The students and the teacher all laughed, especially when they realized it was Mr. Bigone from the history department and Mrs. Ronnie Bronson from the physical education department. When the two teachers realized that almost eighty students were standing on the hill looking at them, they got up and brushed themselves off and walked down the hill as if nothing had happened.
Later that day, both teachers were called to the principal’s office. Gossip spread around the building the both teachers were romantically involved. Students would come up and actually ask Ronnie: “Is it true, Mrs. Bronson, that you and Mr. Bigone are in love?” Ronnie would blush and, of course, deny it, especially since she was married. It certainly was the talk of the school in meetings, lunches, and department meetings.
One evening, Mr. Wise was walking to his car after coaching the boys’ cross-country team practice. The sky was already dark at 5:00 p.m. in the fall. As he approached the teachers’ parking lot, he noticed someone getting out of a VW bus in the back of the parking lot. It was a woman, and she was pulling up her pants that were down around her ankles. She got out of the backseat of the VW bus. Sure enough it was Ronnie Bronson. Mr. Wise ducked down, as he opened his car door, and peeked over the back of his car to see Mr. Bigone getting out of the other side of the VW bus. Mr. Wise laughed to himself. He could not believe that they were making out or having sex in the faculty parking lot in the early evening. He did not tell anyone the next day and kept his little secret to himself.
Every day in the teachers’ cafeteria, it was a real show as some of the male teachers tried to flirt with Mrs. Bronson by offering to take her lunch tray, offering her a seat by them, asking if she wanted their dessert, and on and on. It didn’t take long for many of the female teachers to start getting annoyed about the male teachers fussing over Ronnie. Soon, the female teachers began talking about Ronnie behind her back. Gossip travels fast in a small school of 120 teachers, and the gossip of the day was always “Joe and Ronnie.”
One day an art teacher, named Mr. Goldblatt, spotted a Volkswagen camper bouncing back and forth outside in the faculty parking lot near the art classes. It seem strange that the VW camper was bouncing up and down, so he went outside to get a better look and out came Joe Bigone and a fourteen-year-old girl straightening her clothes. Of course, he reported the incident to the principal. Joe’s excuse was he was helping the student with her history homework in his VW bus.
The Mrs. Ronnie Bronson gossip came to a head during Christmas season of 1969, when the teachers had their annual Christmas at Goldfarbs Hotel nearby. Because most of the teachers were Jewish, the party had to be both a Hanukah party and a Christmas party. It was a Friday night and most of the teachers went home and showered, and dressed up, and met at Goldfarbs Hotel at 8:00 p.m. for the party. Kosher rules had to be enforced, but the Christian teachers did not mind, and went along with the special requests by the more Orthodox Jewish teachers on the faculty.
Ronnie appeared at the party without her husband, whom no one had ever seen. Joe Bigone appeared at the party without a date also. Couples were mingling everywhere, and the president of the teachers’ union announced that the district had hired 300 teachers that year and that 24 new teachers were at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. It was a good time in the High Mountain school district. The district was growing by leaps and bounds, and hundreds of parents were moving out of New York City after the citywide teachers’ union strikes the year before. The parents from New York City had enough of teacher strikes and wanted a better education for their children, so they moved upstate to find better school districts.
Teachers Dick Runner, Bill Better, and Bob Delcon were all sitting around a table having some beers and mixed drinks with their wives when Ronnie and Joe walked by hand in hand. Dick’s wife leaned over to him and asked, “Who are the two sweethearts, honey?”
“Oh, they are two new teachers at KakiatJunior High this year,” Dick said. “Job Bigone is the new history teacher, and Mrs. Ronnie Bronson is the new physical education teacher. I believe she is married; however, no one has ever seen her husband,” Dick added. The other wives at the table also looked at the couple with interest. Dick tried to change the subject. “Well, it is a really great night isn’t it, sweetie?”
Ronnie and Joe danced together all night. Her large oversized chest crushed against his chest. It was quite a scene. Most of the teachers ignored them, except the wives. They seem to be concerned about the young couple. Around 11:00 p.m., both Ronnie and Joe disappeared from the party, and no one noticed that they were gone. Too many of the teachers had a little too much to drink, so their vision wasn’t too great anyway.
A few minutes later, Ronnie and Joe were in his VW bus, stripping off their clothes and kissing one another. “Oh, Joe, I love you,” said Ronnie.
“I love you too, Ronnie,” said Joe with a great deal of passion. “I love when you get naked too, sweetie,” Joe whispered. They laughed together while taking their clothes off.
The VW bus began to bump and jump around as Joe Bigone loosened his male fury on Ronnie. Joe was pulling, kissing, and sucking those huge breasts. Life was good, until there was a knock on the door of the VW bus. It was the principal, Mr. Chisamore, and he did not look happy. Joe quickly tried to put his pants back on as he opened the door. Ronnie was still putting her bra on as Mr. Chisamore stood there saying, “Joe, what the hell are you doing? Mrs. Bronson is a married woman, and this is very inappropriate in the parking lot to be having sex. I want to see you on Monday morning first thing.”
“OK” was all Joe could think of to say. Ronnie was too ashamed to say anything.
Monday morning came, and Mr. Chisamore wrote Joe Bigone up for “conduct unbecoming” a teacher, better known as a 3220a petition for grounds for dismissal. This meant that after a district hearing Joe could be fired. Actually, since Joe did not yet have tenure, he could be fired without a 3230a petition for dismissal; however, the principal, Mr. Chisamore, overreacted. After the meeting with the principal, the union rep informed Joe that they would provide a lawyer free to defend him against being fired. Ronnie and Joe were not seen together in the school from that day on. Ronnie was not brought up on charges, because the district used her as a witness to frame Joe. She was let off with just a letter of reprimand in her file.
It was months later in the spring of 1970 when Joe was formally charged in a 3220 dismissal hearing. The administration wanted to make an example of Joe Bigone to all of the teachers, so they took the extreme measure of filing a 3020a dismissal action against Joe Bigone. The assistant principal, Mrs. Blackweed, made a major mistake and tried to add poor evaluation records to Joe’s professional records before the hearing. She did not know that Joe’s union lawyers had already photocopied all his evaluations and files that the principal had put in Joe’s file during the years Joe worked at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL.
When the evidence was being introduced against Joe Bigone in the 3220a hearing, the poor teaching evaluations signed by Mrs. Blackweed appeared. The defense lawyers realized these documents had been added after the fact and challenged Mrs. Blackweed on the stand under oath in court. The district lawyer asked for a short recess when he suspected that the assistant principal, Mrs. Blackweed, had added poor teaching evaluations after the fact. He met with Mrs. Blackweed in the hallway and informed her that he suspected she added the evaluations after the fact, because the defense lawyers had the complete file of Joe Bigone, and the evaluations by Mrs. Blackweed did not exist at the time the files were copied.
The hearing began after a short recess, and the district lawyer made Joe Bigone and his lawyer a generous offer because of Mrs. Blackweed’s illegal and incompetent behavior in this case. They offered Joe Bigone tenure and a cash settlement in exchange for Joe Bigone agreeing to leave the district in two weeks. Joe’s lawyers advised him to take the money, tenure, and leave the district as requested. He accepted the offer, and the arbitrator was informed that the case had been mutually settled. Mrs. Blackweed received a letter of reprimand for her illegal actions that compromised the district’s position and forced them to settle in favor of Joe Bigone.
A substitute teacher was hired to fill out his position for the remainder of the academic year. Ronnie took the news a little hard, but in the meantime, she had heard rumors that Joe was knocking up some of the female students also. After he was fired, it came to light that he had gotten a pretty fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, Amanda Greenwald, pregnant. He left New York state since he had lost his teacher’s certification. The following year, gossip had it that he got another teaching job in Vermont at an all-girls school. That must have been interesting.
During Easter vacation, one of the women physical education teachers named Nina ran into Ronnie at the local mall. They had lunch together when Ronnie admitted that she was separated from her husband and that she wanted a divorce. That gossip spread around the school as soon as the vacation was over. Ronnie only lasted a year, and after a poor final evaluation at the end of the year, she left for another school district.
Chapter 3 – School Politics
There were five principals between the years 1960 and 1998 at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. Two will not be mentioned because they were short-term replacements. The first principal lasted ten years, the second principal lasted seven years, and the last principal seventeen years. All three retired after serving as principal of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. The first principal, Mr. Chisamore, was “old school,” meaning he was from the “old style” of running a building. Everything was by the book, and formal rules were the way to go for him. Originally, he was an assistant principal at another building. He had transferred from the oldest junior high in the district to this new building in 1960. By the time he became principal, he was already in his late sixties. He brought with him his buddies from the other junior high to serve as department chairmen with a relatively new faculty. Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL opened with 90 percent new teachers hired from NYC or just out of college in 1960.
The first year at KakiatJunior High was very difficult because the building was still unfinished. Many of the classrooms were not finished as of opening day on September 5, 1960. Five years later, in 1965, an extension to the main building was build to house the ever-increasing number of students. A pool was supposed to be built in the inner courtyard of the building extension, but the community voted it down in a bond proposal. The population doubled every year, with students transferring from New York City schools to the High Mountain school district where parents believed they could get a good education for their children, instead of teacher strikes and gang violence.
By 1970, the first principal, Mr. Chisamore, was gone due to gang fights and bad publicity created in the community. The school board pushed him out, thinking he was too old in his late sixties to take control of a junior high. He was forced to retire.
In the fall of 1970, the second principal, Mr. Tom Balls, was hired. He was a physical education teacher previously and also an assistant principal until he was fired in a school district somewhere in Vermont. When he applied for the Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL job, he had been working in a shoe factory in Vermont for two years. The school board wanted a puppet they could control, and he was just the man.
Tom Balls was a man in his forties with no leadership ability at all. He simply did not know how to please the teachers’ union and get his own way at the same time. He fought the teachers’ union at every turn and lost. He did not appreciate the power of informal structure at a school and thought that he could control everything by formal rules. He did not have any friends on the faculty, and few of the teachers had any respect for him. During Tom Balls’s seven-year tenure at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, all hell broke loose with the loss of control of the students and a lack of overall school discipline, drug problems, internal politics, threatened teacher strikes, and other administration problems.
The fact that the teachers union almost went out on strike three times in the early 1970s showed that there was a big gap between the administration needs and the teachers’ needs. Threatened teacher strikes were bad for business, bad for the parents, bad for the students, and bad for the atmosphere in the school system. Everything began to break down when Principal Tom Balls applied foolish formal rules. After each contract renewal with the teachers, the benefits in health insurance begin to shrink. The cost of living far exceeded the amount of pay the teachers were getting. All of these problems transferred back to the principal and the staff attitude at the time. Many teachers stood up against the principal and refused to do what he asked. He tried to fire them, but the teachers’ union protected them, and he lost all the battles.
The principal, Tom Balls, also had a poor relationship with the president of the PTA. The PTA lost a lot of members because of his lack of support to PTA- sponsored events. To gain the respect of the student body and the faculty, Tom Balls arranged a judo and karate demonstration in which he demonstrated judo and karate with some of the teachers and students. Basically, he made a fool of himself. Many teachers who were not sure about the new principal were now convinced that he was a fool.
At the Halloween party, Tom Balls was seen trying to impress some of the new female teachers, even though he was married. He hung around one young teacher the whole night, and she tried to get rid of him. All of the teachers noticed his behavior and that became fodder for more gossip around the school.
At the Christmas party for the teachers, Tom Balls got drunk and made a fool of himself by calling another teacher names. No one forgot that embarrassing and immature occasion at the teachers’ Christmas/Hanukah party. After two years as principal, Tom Balls has lost all credibility with the teachers. He often had to take attendance at faculty meeting because more and more teachers simply did not come to the meetings anymore. He also tried to use the security guards as his spies around the building. That put the security guards in a bad position with the teachers who never trusted them to begin with.
Eventually, with the tensions of no teacher contracts for three years, pending strike threats, no salary increases, the union reps took over the school on an informal basis. They called the shots on whether teachers were going to attend after-school sports events or volunteer for extra assignments. It was a “work to rule,” slow down, and the word “professionalism” went into the garbage can. The board said the teachers should volunteer to do more with no pay, and they called that “professionalism.” They insisted on faculty meetings going beyond two hours on a school day after hours, or coming into “back to school night” to volunteer their time to meet with parents without additional pay
When teachers “worked to rule,” all the extra free services are thrown out the window. It is amazing how much free extra stuff teachers do, like paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, or buying a pizza for a class that did well on a test, or taking a student home who had missed the bus, or cleaning up when a mess was made in a classroom, and the list goes on and on.
Finally, after seven years of total decline, Tom Balls retired to Florida, never to be seen again.
The third principal, Mr. Mat Baldeen, came to KakiatJunior High in 1977, after seven years of decline in the reputation of the school. He came from a New York City school in Brooklyn where he was a social studies teacher who joined the ranks of administrators as an assistant principal. Coming to Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL would be the biggest challenge of his life. Mat Baldeen was an overweight, bald Jewish guy with a great sense of humor. When he first arrived, he was shunned by many of the teachers because of the bad experiences they had with the previous principal. He had his work cut out for him.
Enrollment dropped 50 students a year beginning in 1977 and continued into the 1990s to an all-time low of 440 students. The faculty dropped from 120 teachers over thirty years to only 48 teachers, with a lot of part-time teachers. Five threatened teacher strikes had occurred over the thirty years. It was a bad time for education in the High Mountain school district.
The first thing Mat Baldeen did was make changes formally and informally. Bad old habits and rules were dropped. The sign-in procedure for teachers became more relaxed than before. Teachers were treated with more respect than before. The security staff was changed, and their attitudes changed, as well as their job functions. They were no longer used as spies for the principal. The organization of the front office changed, and the swing gate was removed, and the general appearance of the main office became more inviting. Faculty meetings changed, with teachers’ union pre-meetings having less and less to complain about. Some older teachers were forced to retire, and many new teachers were hired to replace them.
A principal’s cabinet was formed for the first time in the history of the school. It consisted of one person from every department, and one security guard and one custodian, as well as one parent representative. The security guards, custodians, and parents had never been asked before to participate in any committee or governing group in the school. It was a brilliant stroke of genius to help improve the communication within the building. It was also a first recognizing that the custodians, security guards, and secretarial staff were considered on the same level of respect as the teachers and administrators.
The duty of the principal’s cabinet was to make new and positive policies for the school and seek out new ways of improving the school learning environment and community image. Teachers offered to volunteer their lunchtime to supervise a “lunch time detention room” for students that misbehaved during the lunch periods. That was another precedent, with teachers volunteering. The one catch in an agreement between the teachers and the principal was they would volunteer so long as the principal never made it mandatory. A few years later, Tom Baldeen broke his word and tried to mandate teachers to supervise the “lunch room detention room,” since volunteers has begun to disappear. The union fought this mandate and won, and that was the end of the “lunch room detention room.”
The principal’s cabinet worked very well for a few years. Teachers and staff felt they had a say in things for the first time in many years. The school applied for the New York State outstanding school award in 1986 and won the recognition in a ceremony at Albany in the spring of 1987. It was a major positive step forward for Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL.
With every principal comes politics both formal and informal. The teachers’ union has a certain degree of power in representing teachers in conferences with the principal and demanding changes that the teachers wanted. Every principal handled union reps differently, and for each of the three principals of KakiatJunior High, the politics differed. With the first “old school” principal, he ignored the union reps as best he could. He seldom kept them informed and tried to fire teachers without proper documentation. The second principal, Tom Balls, lost all control of the faculty, and the union reps were basically running the school with informal control. Whatever the union wanted, the teachers’ union got at that time.
When the Tom Balls wanted teachers to sign in before 9:05 at the beginning of the day, the teachers’ union said there were legitimate exceptions, and signing in at 9:05 exactly could not be required. To prove the point, all the teachers were asked by the union reps to line up outside the school, except those on bus duty, and wait until 9:05, and then enter the building and sign in on the attendance sheet. The whole process took thirty minutes, and many teachers were late to homeroom, so the student attendance that day was very inaccurate. Tom Balls gave in on the “sign in at 9:05” issue, and the teachers’ union won that battle.
During the monthly faculty meetings, the teachers’ union got an 20 minutes to meet with the teachers before the principal could come in and run the meeting. More was done during the union portion of the meeting than the principal’s portion of the meeting. Coaches were always excused from faculty meetings since they were out on the fields coaching at the time of the meetings or were in the gyms. Much of the plotting and informal undermining of the administration took place during the union faculty meetings.
Politics always came into place when things went wrong. Whenever there was a problem, the principal would try to create a rule after the fact. When teachers were told they could not close their doors, they put a matchbook in the doorway. When the Tom Balls began peeking in the small door window at teachers in their classes, the teachers put up artwork made of paper to block the window view.
One long-haired teacher had a real toilet in his classroom, and all the windows were painted in psychedelic motifs, peace signs, flowers, stain glass designs, and skulls. No one was ever forced to take down their classroom artwork no matter how weird, except on “back to school” night when the parents came in to hear about the school and their children’s progress. Then the posters were taken down, the toilet hidden in a closet, and the window artwork cover plastered with paper class work. It was a big game to the teachers and administrators to hide the real class environment from the parents.
There were very few black teachers in the 1960s and 1970s in Kakia tJunior High, mostly because it was too expensive to live in the Mountain High community. Racism also played a part in preventing black teachers from being hired. At the time, there were mostly all-Jewish teachers on the faculty and very few black teachers. Out of 120 white teachers in the early 1970s, only four were black. White administrators were afraid of black teachers and black power, which was the popular theme in the 1970s. Rather than ask for problems, the white administrators did not hire black teachers.
There were two male black science teachers, two black female teachers in English, and one black female music teacher at the time in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was impossible to fire a black teacher, or the NAACP would be at the building in a heartbeat. White administrators were afraid to fire poorly performing black teachers for fear of being called a “bigot” and getting fired after community outrage ran its course.
Poorly performing white teachers had a different standard and could be easily harassed, and constantly evaluated in order to create a file of information to support the administrators firing a teacher at the end of the year. One harassed teacher was a business teacher in his early sixties, whom the principal, Mr. Baldeen, did not like. Mr. Baldeen thought the teacher’s teaching was out of style, and since he was already in his sixties, he wanted to force him to retire. He sent in the two assistant principals on three occasions in just one month to evaluate the teacher (that was technically illegal by union standards). The poor man was so stressed that he had a heart attack in the classroom and died. No administrators were brought to bear for causing his heart attack, but the teachers all knew the real story. It was a sad time in Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL history.
Politics were in play when it came to getting tenure or salary promotions. Being appointed to the position of department chairman was all about politics and staying in favor with the principal. Department chairpersons were the submanagers that helped the principal run the school and were therefore considered administrators. They had to be loyal to the principal or the supervision structure would fall apart. Department chairmen were picked for their loyalty; that meant they were always “brown-nosing the principal.” It was called “kissing ass” by all the teachers. If you didn’t want to “kiss ass,” then you will never got promoted to a department chairperson position. It was a plain fact of the game of teaching and administration.
There were two rulebooks in education at High Mountain school district. First, there was the administrator’s rulebook pertaining to other administrators, and what they could get away with. The second book was the teachers’ rulebook, which was completely different and had to be formally written down in a large handbook. The teachers had more rules, formal and informal, than the administrators. Administrators could “do no wrong” was the political thought at the time? The teachers were “always wrong” in the administrator’s book, as in
- Teachers were wrong when a student complained that a teacher was mistreating or abusing them in class.
- Teachers were wrong when a student made up a story about a teacher to get even for low grades.
- Teachers were wrong when a teacher was accused of abusing a student without any evidence to the contrary.
Just being accused of a case of misconduct with a student meant you were guilty before being charged. Teachers had to be on their guard both for students who made up stories and administrators that made up stories.
When the assistant principal in charge of class scheduling was assigning teachers to classes, she always held grudges and favored her friends. She could give a teacher a “killer schedule” with three classes in a row and a late lunch. She could make sure that a teacher did not get the last period of the day off, so they could not leave early for coaching at the High School, for instance. The teachers’ union did not allow four periods in a row to be taught; however, a teacher could sign away his/her rights and teach four in a row to get out of school earlier than other teachers. Many a new science teacher faded a few months into the fall from having multiability classes such as:
- A below-level science class first period
- An on-level science class second period
- An earth science regents class third period
- Science lab in the third period
Each of these tracts required a separate preparation and a separate lesson plan to be written each day each week. Some new teachers spent the entire weekend each week writing their lesson plans to keep up with the stress of preparing separate level lessons.
Politics and favoritism went hand in hand at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. Those who “kissed ass” got easy duty assignments, such as hall duty where they sat and worked on their paperwork or bus duty before school. The worse assignments were lunch duty where food fights occurred, and physical fights between students were a weekly happening. Teachers attempting to break up fights usually got injured themselves.
One day, a teacher walked into the teachers’ cafeteria after café duty with peaches sliding down his tie after a student food fight. It was a sight to see, as the peaches continued to slide down his tie onto his white shirt. He even had some peaches in his hair. All of the teachers could not help but laugh. The poor teacher was totally embarrassed.
If you wanted to be removed from lunch duty, you had to work hard doing a poor job. Teachers always came late to lunch duty and left early. Everyone tried to do the worst job possible, without being cited at the same time. Reading the New York Times was always a technique that pissed off the assistant principal. Sitting down while on duty was another no-no. Eating on duty in the lunchroom or drinking coffee was also not allowed. You just had to come late and leave early to make the assistant principal think you were the teacher from hell in the lunchroom. Usually, it took a year to convince the assistant principal that did the lunch duty assignments that there was no way they wanted you in the lunchroom because you did everything wrong. It was, after all, a typical game teachers and administrators played during the course of a school day.
Bus duties were assigned every six weeks before school and after school to assist the administrators in controlling the students getting on or off the buses and in preventing fights or accidents. Every six weeks, the teachers could be assured that they would get bus duty on top of their daily duty period. If you did not show up, you got a bad memo in your file. A stack of bad memos could lead to a poor evaluation at the end of the year. This was how the administrators kept teachers in line with the threat of being fired.
There was the story of the potential Olympic girl skater who never came to physical education classes and passed. Politics often came into play when the girl’s parents were friends of the superintendent. While at a social party with the superintendent one night, the girl’s parents asked him to allow their daughter to miss the first period of school every day and to be excused from physical education classes to attend skating lessons. They told the superintendent that she was an Olympic hopeful and attending skating lessons every morning from 5:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. was critical to her success.
The superintendent agreed to help out his friends and also requested the principal to give the girl an automatic passing physical education grade. The principal then told the physical education department chairperson to tell the teacher assigned to the girl to put down a passing grade, even though the girl never showed up for class. This was a violation of the district attendance, state education policy, and district grading laws. The superintendent demanded that the schoolteachers cooperate, and that was that. All of the physical education teachers refused to give the girl a grade and left her name with no grade on the grading sheets. The principal had to add the grade since he could not force the teachers to fill in the grade because they told the union rep of the violation. This is an example of everyday politics flowing downhill as they always do in schools.
Politics came into play depending upon whether the parent who came into school to complain was a community activator, a lawyer, and white at the same time. Poor parents from Haiti got treated differently than parents who were professionals and white. Indian and Chinese parents were also treated poorly unless they were community leaders with some power. What was called “smoking pot” for one student was called “misuse of medicine” for another student by the administrators when it involved a black student and a white student, respectively. When teachers caught a student smoking marijuana or using it or selling it, the principal usually called in the parents for a conference. When the white parents came in for the meeting, they brought a lawyer and threatened to sue the principal, the teachers, and the district. They usually bluffed the principal out of his position of “no drugs in school” and got a lenient sentence for their child. When it was a black student or a Haitian student caught smoking pot, then the parents who were usually poor came into the meeting with no lawyer, and their son or daughter was deemed guilty automatically.
When nurses turned in a student for drinking or smoking in school, they would not sign a statement to that effect because they were afraid of being sued. Administrators often drove students home, so as not to make it a “federal case.” Many drug abuse cases of white children were covered up when it involved wealthy parents. Black students and other minorities were turned over to the police. It was an unequal system of justice from the beginning.
Politics could make or break a school, and in the case of KakiatJunior High, and with poor management, the reputation of the school went rapidly downhill during the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1970s, a school student news reporter wanted to publish a story on gang fights in school, but Principal Tom Balls blocked the article from being written by telling the advisor he would be fired if the article were published. The student writer went instead to the local newspaper outside the school and got his story published. The story about gang fights in the school was something the community and the superintendent were unaware of at the time. When the superintendent saw the article, he was most upset and notified the principal, Tom Balls, to come to his office immediately. Mr. Balls’s future from that point on with the district and the superintendent was tedious.
Unfortunately, the community people reading these stories actually believed the stories and gossip. It was a sad thing when many good teachers in the High Mountain school district were afraid to work at KakiatJunior High because of its poor reputation in the community.
Despite the attempts by the administration to control the politics at Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, nothing ever worked. All the teachers at Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL were branded as militant and radical by the administration. The teachers were the “soldiers in the cold trenches,” and the administrations were “the captains in the warm headquarters.” Teaching can be a very isolated career once those doors are closed; the teachers are in a world of their own. Administrators used to be teachers, but for some reason, they forgot what it is like teaching in a classroom and showed the teachers no sympathy.
A Jewish Community
The High Mountain school district had a population of 70 percent Jewish students in the 1960s through the 1980s; many of the teachers were also Jewish. Teaching seemed to be a career that many Jewish college students seemed to prefer, if they were not pursuing a career as a doctor, dentist or other high paying professional position. Teaching was considered a profession, but it was last on the list of professionals because of the low pay scale. There were many kinds of Jewish teachers, some were liberal and never made a big deal of their religion to students or colleagues. Others were Orthodox Jewish teachers who often wore a little Jewish hat called a yamaka to make a statement that they were Orthodox Jews.
The Jewish teachers made it a point to use “Yiddish Jewish expressions” with one another to exclude the non-Jewish teachers from understanding what they were saying. This was their way of being cool wise “Jewish.” The Jewish teachers also made it a point to take off for all Jewish holidays large and small, even if they were not in the school calendar. For small holidays, they took personal days. Non-Jewish teachers were Christians or Muslims; mostly, they were called “goyams.” At teacher parties, the Jewish teachers made it a point to demand that the food be kosher even if they did not practice eating kosher diets at home. The Jewish teachers who preferred Hanukah tolerated Christmas.
There wasn’t any real tension between the Jewish teachers and the Christian teachers at work, but in private, many Christian teachers resented the hypocrite attitude by many of the phony Jewish teachers. At funerals for Jewish teachers, all the teachers show up to show their respects. Often, some Christian teachers offered to participate in the twelve-men reading prayers. During shiva when the survivors of the deceased Jewish teacher sat grieving for a week, they welcomed Christian and Jewish teachers alike to visit and have small snacks and tea and talk about the deceased person. It was a good idea for togetherness.
Eventually, the Jewish teachers’ children would at some time turn age twelve and would have a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah for a boy or a girl, respectively, in a coming-of-age ceremony. Jewish teachers would invite almost all of the faculty friends and family that they could afford. Thousands of dollars were spent on these religious occasions, and the parties were lavish and overbearing. These religious social events bonded the Christian and Jewish teachers more on a personal basis and a professional one, too, over time.
Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL was “a cast of characters” from different religious backgrounds that blended together over time. For better or worse, they merged into one cohesive faculty over a period of forty years of the life of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. Some teachers stood out as the best and were always fondly remembered by their students. Other teachers, their students easily forgot. Some teachers were leaders who weren’t afraid to give “their all” for the school, faculty, and students. Some teachers actually taught effectively, and other teachers just got by. The system was never perfect, and politics always played a part. The cliché’ was often said that “if you play ball and do not make waves, you could survive a career as a teacher.”
Chapter 4 – Sex in the School
There are three types of students in JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL: the oversexed, the undersexed, and those that did not know the difference. Generally, the ninth-grade students had the most hormones pumping and were, of course, the most physically mature compared to a seventh grader. A seventh-grade girl had to really be physically well developed in the chest area in order for a ninth-grade boy to notice her. Seventh-grade boys were still playing with yo-yos and masturbating at home with Playboy magazines.
Eighth-grade boys were the freaks of physical development. Some would be five feet tall, and some would be six feet tall with hair growth on their faces. It was the growing spurt year in eighth grade. The girls, on the other hand, developed physically in sixth grade, and by the time they got into seventh grade, they had full-grown breast and shapely legs. It was a confusing age of sudden growth for junior high students.
Makeup was a must for all girls, regardless of age. If parents did not allow makeup, the girls would put makeup on in the bathroom of the school before classes started. Miniskirts were in fashion in the 1960’s and 1970s, and tight jeans in the 1980s, for girls. The miniskirts were so short that a teacher standing in front of a class could not help but notice the girls’ underwear or shorts under the miniskirts. A male teacher had to remember to keep looking up. Female teachers just ignored the field of bloomers. It was impossible for a girl with a miniskirt to sit down. They had to cross their legs to hide what lies beneath. Boys were constantly distracted by the amount of leg in the isles in classes. It was a battle of the hormones for boys. Sometimes girls’ miniskirts were so short that they had to be sent home to change into something more modest.
One day during a faculty meeting in the school cafeteria after school, a girl in a miniskirt walked by in the hallway outside the meeting. Her miniskirt was so short that when she walked behind the eleven-inch-wide board that joined two glass partitions, it looked like she had nothing on from the waist down. Even the principal who was facing the hallway stopped for a second as the girl walked by, unaware of the visual trick the eleven-inch board was providing by hiding the girl’s very short miniskirt. The faculty all turned around to see what was going on and laughed when they saw the girl walking by with what seemed to be no skirt.
When attending health education classes, most students thought they could have sex without protection and have no problems. Some had weird ideas of what sex really was. Girls were usually more knowledgeable than the boys, because girls would tell one another about sex and sexual encounters they had. Boys were on a different planet when it came to sex. They main object in life was to have sexual intercourse with a girl and ejaculate or play with their yo-yos. Sex meant little more than satisfying a physical desire for boys.
Many boys never had their fantasies come true, because they had no clue how to approach a girl or what to do on a date. Going steady was one way to seek security by giving a girl a cheap ring or bracelet with their initials engraved. This signified that they were going out together or going steady, and that the relationship was monogamous. If you dated a girl or a boy more than once, you may be considered “going out with one another.”
Girls sent notes to one another in class talking about their dates and problems with their new boyfriends. Boys, on the other hand, never sent notes talking about their love life or dating. That was considered “not too cool.” Strangely, many students believed that it was easier to engage in oral sex to prevent pregnancy. The truth, however, is once a girl engaged in oral sex, regular intercourse was the next thing she would want to experiment with. Boys were more than willing to engage in any kind of sex to satisfy their hormonal desires. One year during the 1970s, over a dozen students were caught having oral sex in the school building or behind the gym after school. It seemed to be a sign of the times with a “sexual revolution” going on in society in the 1970s.
There were a few girls that got pregnant; however, pregnant girls were not that uncommon. Girls got pregnant usually with older high school students or an older boy in the community. Getting pregnant was still a major taboo in the 1960s and 1970s. One day, a girl would be in school, and the next day, they were gone. The district, once they learned of a pregnancy, transferred the girl to an alternative school in the district. All of the major conduct problem students and the pregnant girls were housed in this facility. Many girls hid their pregnancy by wearing loose clothing and hiding their morning sickness.
One large black girl qualified for the boys’ football team on a Title 9 federal equality ruling. She passed the physical test and the football skills tests knocking most of the boys to the ground with her flying tackles. She had a mean spirit and was very muscular and powerful at 165 pounds. Many of the football players were afraid of her temper and strength, but wouldn’t admit it.
Her classroom was the “emotionally handicapped self-contained classroom” that came under special education. In these self-contained classrooms, a teacher and an assistant worked with only ten to twelve emotionally disturbed students at a time. Emotionally disturbed meant that the student tested as being intelligent but violent, with a history of attacking a teacher with a knife or weapon. Many of these children came from New York City street gangs that were assigned to group homes in the suburbs.
The black girl’s name was Wanda. She had been a member of the Corona Debs girls’ gang in Long Island City, New York. She was arrested for assaulting a teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City. The courts transferred her Upstate New York to a group home in the High Mountain school district. All of the students in the emotionally disturbed class feared her because she was physically very intimating. If anyone talked back to her, she punched them in the face. Her reputation around the entire school was well known.
One day when she was in the “emotionally handicapped physical education class,” the physical education teacher challenged Wanda to a one-on-one basketball game. Amazingly, she beat the teacher by two points in a twenty-one-point game. That night, after that very strenuous one-on-one basketball game, Wanda delivered an eight-pound, three-ounce baby girl at 2:00 in the early morning.
What a shocker! No one had a clue that she was pregnant. Even the physical education teacher was shocked. She always was a big girl and wore loose clothing. It was impossible to tell if she was pregnant or just fat. Wanda’s uncle Billy seduced her at her home when her parents were working. He used no protection, and she got pregnant. A month after the delivery, Wanda came back to school with her little baby girl, as if nothing had happened. She showed the baby to the office staff and the teachers, never appearing to have any shame. She never came back to KakiatJunior High because she had no one to watch her baby. She quit school after her child was born and went to work at a local grocery story while her grandmother watched the baby.
The greatest sexual stigma of all is teachers having sex with students. This occurred on a rare basis, but rumors swirled all the time that some young male teacher was banging the hell out of some beautiful busty teenage girl who was under sixteen years of age. Sex with a child under sixteen was a felony, and the adult could be sent to jail, and in the case of teachers, they could also lose their teaching license.
One incident branded all the other teachers as well. Most of the teachers lived normal lives and never got involved with their students sexually. But it only takes one teacher to make it seem teachers were having sex with their students. After all, it was the 1970s, the “age of free sex” and “social revolution.”
One night, a custodian was cleaning a science classroom after school hours around 6:00 p.m., when he heard voices coming from inside a science prep room. He knocked on the door but there was no answer. He continued knocking, but still no answer. Afterward, the custodian left the classroom and continued cleaning down the hall. Inside the science prep room was social studies’ Joe Bigone, who emerged pulling up his pants, with a beautiful fifteen-year-old brunette, who was adjusting her bra under her shirt.
Apparently, they were both fooling around in the prep room. The custodian saw someone leave but did not recognize the teacher or student from the other end of the hallway. That did not stop him from gossiping to his buddies that he thought he saw a teacher and a student sneaking out of a classroom after school hours. This made for great storytelling during the custodian dinner break in the teachers’ lounge. They all laughed at the story. Eventually, the story in various forms got around the school.
Romances between teachers were not illegal, but often discouraged by the administration. The district makes it a policy to not allow married couples to work in the same building, thinking that they might be demonstrating their love for one another on the job.
One romance between a male teacher in the special education department and a female teacher in the math department sparked a major problem one year. It seems a fellow female teacher in the special education department was jealous of their romance, so she called in the “district supervisor of special education” to do an evaluation of the teacher. The teacher was informed of the pending evaluation and passed the evaluation with flying colors. Then the word got out who called the district supervisor of special education. The whistleblower had her payroll check stolen from her mailbox, and that was the last time paychecks were put in the mailboxes. That incident had a domino effect on office procedures and the way paychecks were distributed.
After that incident, every teacher had to sign for his or her paycheck with the principal’s executive secretary. The romance continued to the point the even the principal became aware of it. The two teachers would sit on one another’s laps in the teachers’ lounge and make everyone else in the room uncomfortable.
Late in May of 1981, a custodian was opening a cleaning closet in the far building extension hallway of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL only to find the special education male teacher naked, having sex with a naked female math teacher. “Oops, I am sorry,” said the custodian, as he opened the closet door.
“Please don’t tell on us, Mr. Brown,” Sam Shine, the special education teacher, begged.
“Oh my god, I am so embarrassed,” said Sally Fine, the math teacher.
“We were just fooling around,” said Mr. Shine.
“I am sorry but I have to tell my boss or lose my job,” said Mr. Brown, the custodian. Mr. Shine and Ms. Fine begged for several minutes, as they put their clothes back on. It was most embarrassing for everyone involved.
The custodian reported the incident to his supervisor, and the following day, both teachers were placed on paid leave for “conduct unbecoming.” Since they had no tenure, they were summarily dismissed immediately after a hearing with the director of secondary education. Both teachers went on to work at another school district farther Upstate New York the next year, and their extra sexual activity was expunged from their record in exchange for their resignation letters. The gossip mill passed these stories about the two teachers for many months until the end of the school year. Some teachers said that Ms. Fine, the math teacher, was giving the special education teacher, Mr. Shine, blow jobs every day during her lunch break in her back coat closet.
Who knows if the stories were true, but it made a great story just the same. The special education teacher’s name was Jeffrey Smarts. The expression that developed out of this incident was called “Jeff ring a teacher” or “don’t Jeffrey me.” It was a very personal and very funny expression that only the teachers knew about.
Because of the paranoia of being accused of having sex with a student or another teacher, teachers were often warned to be careful. Teachers and administrators were instructed never to be in a room alone with a student. A male teacher should never be in a classroom alone with a female student, and a female teacher should never be in a classroom with a male student. Teachers learned to be naturally paranoid when it came to touching students or getting too close.
Because of a few isolated incidents with teacher–student sex scandals, all teachers were on alert. It was difficult not to notice the female students unbuttoning their shirts down their chest or wearing miniskirts that left nothing to the imagination. Once a student made up a story about the teacher doing something sexual, he or she was instantly guilty. Many times, students were vindictive because of poor grades in a class, and they turned on a teacher by making up a story how the teacher had sexually abused them. It was the way the administrators handled the problems that made things worse, by violating the teacher’s rights and believing the student’s story until it turned out to be a hoax.
Chapter 5 – The End-of-the-Year “Teacher Parties”
Every academic year the teachers’ union reps were allowed to run a lottery called a 50/50 lottery every other week on pay day. If a teacher bought a lottery ticket for $2, they could win 50 percent of the entire pot of money collected. The other half of the pot of money collected went into a fund for the end of the year teacher parties.
Administrators were invited to the parties, but not allowed to enter into the lotteries. By the end of the year, the union had usually collected over a thousand dollars from these lotteries. They used the expenses to pay for the party room rental, the food, and the DJ or whatever entertainment was being provided. Sometimes, there was an open free bar included in the catering, and sometimes not. It depended on the amount of money collected and the relative cost of the room and catering.
There were three or four major teacher parties that really stood out in the three-decade period from 1970s to the late 1990s, and here is what happened at them. The first party started at a local hotel and then moved to a private party at one of the teachers’ houses that had a pool and lots of room to handle a large group of teachers from Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. That party was called the Ninos art teacher party. The second party occurred in 1976, the year of the bicentennial celebration, and that party was known as the 1976 bicentennial party. The third party, worth mentioning, took place in a motel party room with a revolving door entrance. That party was called the revolving door party. There were about thirty years of annual teacher parties, but the 1970s and 1980s were the best parties, because Johnny C. and Dick Runner planned the parties.
The Ninos Party
The party at Ninos’s house was a party to top all parties. After the regular district teacher party was over at a local hotel, all of the KakiatJunior High teachers, but not administrators, were invited to Ninos’s country estate in the northern part of Mountain High estates. Her house was beautiful, because she worked as a teacher and her husband was a lawyer; they had plenty of money. One of Ninos’s friends was a music teacher who was well liked but who happened to be a lesbian. Ninos’s husband was an old school Italian guy who did not like lesbians. When he found out that this music teacher, called Paula, was bringing her lesbian lover called Pam, he blew up. Ninos and her husband had a big fight before the party over the two lesbians coming to the party. Fortunately, before the party had begun, he calmed down, and when Paula arrived with her lover Pam, he ignored them.
The Ninos’s party started after 11:00 p.m., and almost all the teachers had several drinks at the previous party and were all a little high. Teachers were told to bring swimsuits, but few felt comfortable changing into a swimsuit with everyone else in formal dress attire.
The excitement for the evening began when one male teacher, after consuming many alcoholic drinks, decided to take off his clothes, in front of all the men and women, and go swimming in the pool. This then escalated to another male teacher pushing Johnny C. into the pool. When he hit the water, his swim trunks slid down his butt to his ankles. When he surfaced, he had no swimsuit on, and everyone laughed except his pregnant wife, Sandra. Pushing and shoving everyone into the pool commenced, and some still had on their dresses and suits on. It was a mess, but funny as hell.
Some of the men grossed out the women by pissing on the bushes when they could not longer hold their urine. Everyone was drinking beers and mixing that with liquor drinks. Boilermakers were the most popular drink of the night, consisting of pouring a shot of liquor into a glass of beer and chugging it down. Some of the beer was dispensed by a pressurized one-half keg with a hose which led to hosing one another with the beer and having chugging contests to see how much a guy or woman could drink of the beer without stopping to breathe.
In a matter of a few hours, everyone was stone drunk. Then the food was served. The eggs and bacon were undercooked, and many of the teachers got sick.
Teachers were throwing up on all the bushes everywhere. The two gay women were in the bathroom having sex. When Ninos’s husband found out, he freaked out and threw them out of the party. Everyone was embarrassed for Betty Ninos due to her husband’s behavior. The party went on to 4:00 a.m. anyway.
Johnny C. and Sam Smarts were so drunk that night that they had to get in the backseat of their car and have Johnny C.’s pregnant wife drive home with the other teacher’s wife. Both of the men threw up in the back of the car. The wives were not amused. As a matter of fact, the wives were cold sober and pissed off beyond measure.
The next day, the grade 8 math final exams were to be given at 9:00 a.m., and some of the teachers were assigned as proctors for the test. The following morning, Bill Lockeed, who had been to the party the night before, had to get up early to go to school. He was supposed to proctor the eighth-grade math test that morning. As Mr. Lockeed drove down the road from his house, he stopped at each and every stop sign, opened the doors, and threw up on the ground. By the time he got to Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, he was dry heaving out the car windows.
The math 8 final exam began at 9:00 a.m. sharp, and 230 students were in their seats ready for the grade 8 math final exam. Mr. Lockeed had to excuse himself first and went down the hall, from the cafeteria where the tests were being administered, to dry heave in the custodial sink. This went on every thirty minutes for four hours. Bill Lockeed had never been so sick in his entire life. They made no contribution to the proctoring of the test, and could not even remember what they did afterward. Fortunately, there were four other sober teachers proctoring that day. After the math 8 final exam, Bill went home for the rest of the day and went to sleep, hoping the hangover would go away.
Bill swore afterward that he would never drink again. Ninos’s party went down in teacher folklore history as the raunchiest party in the history of Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. It was not a typical example of teacher behavior after school hours, but it did represent a time when teachers who were under a lot of pressure with threatened teachers’ strikes and administrative harassment needed time to “blow off steam.”
The 1976 Bicentennial Teacher Party
The year 1976 was the bicentennial of the liberation of the American colonies from the British. The teachers’ “end of the year party planning committee” decided to order Bicentennial Award Plates to hand out to teachers as mock awards. The only catch was the awards were bogus and were meant to embarrass teachers rather than award them. It was all in the atmosphere of good humor.
The end of the year teacher party came about on a warm summer night in June 1976. Everyone was excited to witness the Bicentennial Award Plates being awarded to undeserving teachers. It was an open bar that night, and everyone had plenty to drink. One of the teachers was planning to do an exposé humor dialogue on talking on an imaginary phone conversation. This routine was made popular by comedian Bob Newheart at that time. The dialogue was all about an assistant principal that made some questionable comments on the phone about some discipline problems that occurred during the past year. The stories were derived from inside information that the teacher had learned about over the past year. After “five scotch on the rocks,” drinks, the funny dialogue was delivered to many loud laughs, and the assistant principal took it all in stride.
Next came the Bicentennial Plate Awards. For the Teacher of the Year Award, the union reps gave an award to a teacher that was hated by everyone on the staff. She was a language teacher, a department chairperson, and she was not present at the party.
Various other awards were given. The Most Friendly Teacher of the Year Award went to a couple suspected of carrying on a secret romance; the Triangle Award to three teachers, two men and one woman, involved in a romantic triangle; the Missing Truck Insurance Award to a Custodian who purposely left his van on a Harlem street in New York city so it would be stolen. The truck was a “lemon,” and he could not get the dealer to take it back. By having the van stolen, he could collect the insurance for the defective Ford van. The custodian did not think the award was so funny, however.
Every imaginable way to embarrass a teacher was made up in some kind of award. The teachers laughed until they had no voices left. The alcoholic drinks helped too, with the open bar for drinks. The night ended with many of the teachers buddying up and having a designated sober driver drive them home.
The Revolving Door Motel Party – 1980
There was nothing special about the planning for the revolving door motel party except that the open bar was to close at 11:00 p.m. When the DJ announced the bar would be closing at 10:30 p.m. instead of 11:00 p.m., there was a big rush to the bar to get the last of the beers and liquor drinks. The teachers drank an average of five to eight beers in the last thirty minutes of the party. The heavier drinkers had at least five to six scotch or whiskey drinks in a half-hour period of time.
The end result was when the party was over after 11:00 p.m., many of the teachers walked through the revolving door, instead of pushing the door around. It was the funniest sight imaginable to see everyone piling up in the revolving door. They were so drunk that they were unable to get out of the revolving door. Some were falling down, and others came back out when they entered the revolving door.
Outside in the parking lot were twenty or more teachers throwing up all over the bushes and dry heaving their stomachs out from drinking so much alcohol in such a short period of time. The party committee never planned this to happen. Parties were never again booked at that motel with the revolving door, and future commitments for parties demanded that the parties end no earlier than 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. due to the mistake made at the revolving door motel party.
By the late 1980s and the 1990s, the end-of-year teacher parties were no longer a big affair. The faculty had decreased in size from 120 teachers to less than fifty teachers. The teacher vs. administration had gone from good to bad. A major contributor to the planning of the parties passed away in 1991, and after his passing, the parties were never the same again. The faculty was so small and divided in the 1990s that the parties had been reduced to small get-togethers. The craziness of the 1960s and 1970s was gone and so was much of the school spirit.
Chapter 6 – Money
As the cliché goes, “Money walks and money talks.” This cliché was especially true at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. The school budget was the major money source at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. The teachers were not aware that 10 percent to 15 percent of the budget was added into the budget, just in case the board of education cut 10–15 percent, after the budget review. The assistant principal’s power came from the fact that he was in control of the budget for the entire school. This was subject to the approval of the principal who had never done a budget in his entire lifetime. A lot of “goodies or special projects” could easily be buried in the budget under titles like “miscellaneous science lab materials,” “general computer supplies,” and the like.
Each year, in February, a budget form was sent around to the department chairpersons to make out a supplies request form for their department. Mistakes were often made. One social studies teacher made a mistake with some additional zeroes that the assistant principal did not discover until the day the item was delivered. The social studies teacher wanted to order 100 paper clips, but made a typo and ordered 10,000 paper clips instead. They were boxes, not individual paper clips.
When the beginning of school began in September, a large eighteen-wheeler truck pulled up in front of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, and the driver delivered case after case of just paper clips. Ten thousand boxes of paper clips to be exact were shipped. They filled up the entire front hallway. It was most embarrassing when the assistant principal checked the cases of paper clips to find that there were 10,000 boxes of paper clips. It was too late to send them back.
Supplies went out on bid; so if you did not make an item specific, such as a “Spalding rubber football XL high quality,” you got a rubber football that was so cheap that it did not have a bladder, and usually leaked after being used a few times. Department chairmen learned to write specific descriptions that were hard to find a substitute for. If they just put down twelve footballs and twelve soccer balls, they got crap from China or some other Third World country, made out of plastic rather than rubber or leather.
Textbooks were the largest annual expense, and renewal of new textbooks was on a rotating basis. Every three or four years, a complete new set of textbooks would be ordered for an entire department.
In health education, the budget was small that books written in the 1950s were still being used in the 1970s. These books were worn out and often without full book covers. Sex education was two pages of content, and AIDS hadn’t been discovered yet. The books spent more time on auto injuries and accidents than controversial issues like sex, dating, anatomy, diseases, smoking, cancer, and death. There was not enough money in the budget for health education books so they were never ordered until the mid-1980s.
The annual health education budget was $500 a year. It was impossible to teach health education using the textbook, since it was so outdated. It wasn’t until 1985 that new health education textbooks were ordered because the district-wide health education curriculum committee had rewritten the entire district health education curriculum.
AIDS was the major curriculum being developed at the time. Unfortunately, the AIDS curriculum by New York State in 1984 was rejected a year later by the High Mountain school district. The district AIDS curriculum was implemented, and it lasted only two years. The district AIDS curriculum was abandoned due to lawsuits by Hindu and Muslim Indian parents that did not want sex education for their children or the discussion of AIDS and sex-related illnesses.
It seemed like every year the AIDS curriculum kept changing due to new information available each year. The students has no idea what AIDS was really about until the school got its first HIV-positive student in the late 1980s. This was a strictly confidential piece of information that the counselors made the teachers involved sign a special HIV confidential information form. That had to promise not to identify the HIV-positive student or talk about him to anyone.
The word got out about the student being HIV positive, and despite the confidentiality measures taken by the staff and teachers, all of the students in the Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL knew about the student having HIV/AIDS. A lot of parents complained at school board meetings about having an HIV-positive student in school with their children, but nothing was done. Very few students had the guts to hang around the infected HIV student. Fear and lack of knowledge kept teachers and students away from personal contact with the student.
The principal, Mr. Baldeen, always seemed to have money for awards and special projects. The source of his money was from two illegal slush funds. The first account was from money paid to the office for schoolbooks that were lost or destroyed. Textbooks usually cost $50 or more depending on whether they were new or used. If students did not pay for their lost books, they were not given their grades and could not graduate until they paid up. This money was supposed to go back to the district general fund; however, some of it was diverted into a Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL club account at a local bank. Thousands of dollars sat in this account for the principal to use whenever he wanted, and no questions were asked. Only a few hundred dollars was sent to the central district office to be returned to the general account. Neither the superintendent nor the board of education has any idea that this practice was going on at the time.
The second illegal slush fund of the Principal Baldeen was from the soda machines in the school. The head custodian arranged for a soda distributor to set up four machines in the building to sell cans of soda at one dollar a piece. The profit was fifty cents on a can and was returned to the custodian who in turn split the check with the principal for the commission on the sale of soda for the month.
The PTA was never aware of this arrangement nor was anyone in the school district. The Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL students lived on sodas. They bought a soda for breakfast before school and bought a can to take on the bus for the ride home every day. The profits each month was in the thousands. The principal and the head custodian shared the profits for more than a decade. Eventually, the PTA forced the soda distributors to sell water and fruit juices which they thought were healthier than soda which was full of sugar. This had no effect on the profit the principal and the head custodian made each month in commissions on juice sales.
Eventually, the head custodian fell into disapproval by the principal, and their friendship dissolved. The relationship got so bad that the principal filed the paperwork to fire the head custodian one summer. Someone in the administration office who was a friend of the head custodian saw the termination paperwork to get rid of the head custodian and called him at home to tell him the principal was planning on firing him. The head custodian came back from his vacation to see the principal, and a big verbal fight ensued in the principal’s office with yelling and cursing heard around the entire front office area.
The head custodian threatened the principal that if he was fired, he would “spill the beans” on the illegal slush fund money that the principal had been receiving for the past decade. Over ten thousand dollars was sitting in a Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL account in a local bank, separate and distinct from district funds. Come the end of the summer, the head custodian was not fired, but he was transferred to North Mountain JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. The entire slush fund went to the principal after the head custodian left.
Money drove the budget requests from department chairpersons and gave the assistant principal more power than the principal. An assistant principal asked the principal if he could have a new Apple laptop computer, and the principal said no. When the budget came out that year, an Apple laptop was included for the assistant principal, and the principal could do nothing about it since the superintendent of schools already approved the budget. That is the power of the assistant principal in charge of the school budget.
Money and its availability directly affected the sports programs and the school budget. When the community voted the budget down for the school district, the district went on an austerity budget that meant no sports programs and extracurricular clubs or activities. Often, the district would bring the budget vote up again, and if it still failed, they would try to get the community to pass a supplemental budget just for sports. On several occasions when the budget was voted down in the Mountain High school district, the parents and boosters of the football program and the marching band program did their own fund-raising to keep the programs from being dropped at the high school level.
The football team had the largest sports budget of any of the sports in the school. The pads, helmets, and uniforms cost a fortune. Old shirts had to be reconditioned and passed down to the eighth-grade football team and the seventh-grade football team. New helmets and new uniforms were purchased every year, and they were always a Champion brand or some other major brand of equipment. The image of the school was at stake, as well as the safety of the players, so if the equipment was substandard, there was a greater possibility for a lawsuit that could cripple the school district. No expense was too great for the football teams.
Soccer teams, wrestling teams, girls’ softball, and boys’ hardball teams all got new uniforms every year for the ninth-grade teams, and the old uniforms were reconditioned and handed down to the lower grade level teams. Junior Hifh schools did not have as big a budget for sports as the high schools did, and they had to make due with older uniforms sometimes.
There was very little in the budget for intramural teams since the majority of the funding went to the sports teams. Intramural teams did not need uniforms, and if they did, they had to buy their own uniform. Intramural gymnastics was a perfect example. The gymnastics team at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL grew from ten students to fifty students in just three years, and then to 110 students in ten years. The female gymnasts had to buy their own leotards, and male gymnasts had to buy white gymnastics pants from local sporting goods stores. The boys would buy their own white gymnastics pants and shirts, since their uniform was standardized. The girls’ leotards had hundreds of colors and designs and sizes, so in their situation, each girl filled out a form with their sizes, and the coach got a discount for them by ordering one large order of leotards for all the girls.
The uniforms were initially for the PTA annual gymnastics exhibition held each year for the parents. This gymnastics tradition spread to doing exhibitions at local elementary schools and other high schools in district and outside of the district. When equipment was needed, the school had no budget to buy equipment, so money was always an issue. During the first years of the program, the gymnastics coach held a spaghetti dinner for the parents of the gymnasts. At this dinner, he gave out trophies for the Most Outstanding Gymnast, Most Improved Gymnast, and Most Valuable Gymnast for the year. The gymnastics coach paid for all the trophies out of his own pocket. To make sure there was an emphasis on participation over competition, he awarded every member of the team a gymnastics team pin specially designed by a local trophy store.
The gymnastics coach also took the opportunity to tell the parents that the gymnastics equipment at the school was substandard and out of date. Much of the equipment was used equipment handed down by the senior high school. The side horse alone dated back to the early 1950s. He asked the parents to help raise funds or donate funds to help the team buy a new balance beam. This approach worked, and money made the difference. There was no school budget for purchasing gymnastics equipment at the time since KakiatJunior High had the only exhibition and competitive gymnastics team in the entire county.
One of the parents, Mr. Goldstein, donated stick on emblems for the team to sell as booster awards for the Kakiatgymnastics team. Those stickers lasted ten years, and every gymnast’s parents bought dozens of gymnastics shields at a dollar each. The money was saved to purchase one new piece of gymnastics equipment each year.
By 1970, the parents of the KakiatJunior High gymnasts helped the team buy a set of girls’ uneven parallel bars for the school, raised from fund-raising efforts. Every year after that, a new piece of equipment was purchased until Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL had the best gymnastics equipment and program in the entire High Mountain school district. The gymnastics team even sold bottles of soda at the teen center for a few years to raise money for equipment. The coach of the gymnastics team contacted some of the major gymnastics manufacturing companies to send field equipment to be used during gymnastics clinics for schools in New York State. Many of these balance beams, vaulting horses, and specialty crash-pad mats, remained at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL for many years before they had to be returned to the manufacturers.
This is a perfect example of parent support and the success of an intramural and extramural gymnastics program that served over 3,000 students in the twenty years of its existence. Between 1970 and 1990, the Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL Gymnastics Exhibition team performed more than sixty shows at every elementary school in the High Mountain school district. They also performed for ten years at the local mall prior to the “back to school sales in late August.” They produced over a hundred New York State boys’ public school champions and USGF girls’ state champions. One male gymnast went on to the 1980 Olympic trials, placing eleventh in the nation. Three female gymnasts qualified for the Junior National Championship in 1976, and one female gymnast became the USGF Regional 1 all-around champion. For all of the other gymnasts, they had the honor of participating in a highly rewarding sports program that emphasized participation for everyone regardless of talent or ability.
Money came into play with school field trips. A certain amount of money had to be set aside for buses to take students on field trips to NYC museums, special educational exhibits, and other worthy educational trips. School trips were always controversial because they had to be initiated by interested teachers who went along as chaperones and were not paid extra for the trips. Administrators could not force school field trips on teachers. They had to let the teachers come up with the idea for a field trip so that many other teachers were willing to accompany these full day trips. Getting an administrator to allow a field trip usually involved “kissing up to the administrator with some favors.” It was always the “one hand wipes another” game or “quid pro quo.”
Sometimes, a teacher got a special discount group ticket to a NYC Broadway show that was educational in nature or a story being read in the English classes like Les Miserables, which was a story being read in the ninth-grade English classes. In order to get funding for the buses to take the students into New York City, the teacher had to do favors for the administrators. These favors were either informing on their fellow teachers to the administrators or taking unfavorable duty assignments like cafeteria duty.
Money determined the difference in what a student wore or didn’t wear. There was a disparity between the rich students and the poor students in what they wore to school. The richer students all wore high-fashion, high-end jeans that cost over sixty or seventy dollars each. In the 1970s, a sixty-dollar pair of jeans was very expensive. Students that didn’t have a lot of money wore knockoff jeans or unknown name jeans. Girls spent the most money on dresses, miniskirts, sweaters, jackets, shoes, and makeup. Boys tended to dress down when it came to their clothes.
The rich students bought Saks Fifth Avenue shirts, and the poorer students bought Kmart $5.99 T-shirt specials. Richer students would wear real leather jackets to school or $250–$400 down feather ski jackets to school. Poorer students wore layers—sweatshirt hooded over sweatshirt or a ski vest over a sweatshirt. Sneakers varied between the traditional white tennis sneakers that were cheap in price or running shoes that cost over $100 each. Money determined the difference in cultural values of the students also. Some poor students thought it was OK to wear $120 basketball sneakers and used clothing at the same time. It was all a matter of cultural values and “being cool.”
Seventy percent of the students at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL were on the free lunch program in the 1960s–1990s, called Title I program. The Title I program had the federal government reimbursed the states for students below the poverty level for lunches and breakfasts. The states reimbursed the individual school districts to allow for free lunches and breakfasts for low-income students. The poor students had to eat what was being served for the day. Both breakfasts and lunches were served for the poor students.
The richer students purchased their own food at the cafeteria or brought their own brown bag lunches with corn beef sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, deli prepared sandwiches, or ethnic food such as fried rice, rice ball, Chinese soup, and other foreign foods prepared at home. Pizza was the most desirable food and could be purchased for only seventy-five cents a slice, and almost everyone could afford that. Some students were always borrowing money from their friends who had money. Junior high students had no clue when it came to money. “If they had it, they spent it.” Saving money was not in their vocabulary. Some students grubbed off of other students’ food every day of the week. In most cases, their parents never took the time to fill out the Title 1 free luncheon food assistance program, and their child went to school every day with no money and no lunch.
Money was the reason for so much theft in Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, especially in the school hall lockers and the physical education locker rooms. Students were always being robbed of money when their lockers were left open or unlocked. When one student flashed some money around they got for their birthday, it was inevitable that someone would attempt to steal it in the physical education locker room or the hall locker if they knew where it was kept.
One year, a band of seventh-grade Haitian students were caught in the girls’ bathroom by a security guard, dumping a pocketbook’s contents down the toilet. They had been stealing other girls’ pocketbooks during lunchtime and splitting the money between them. Nine girls were involved in this scheme, which was surprising considering they all came from Catholic school the year before.
Junior high students were very careless with money as evidenced by the hundreds of petty thefts each year of student money or valuables, like watches and jewelry. Money was a desirable commodity. Junior high student could never have enough money. Lost and found had hundreds of coats and hats and other clothing each year collected from careless students.
Chapter 7 – Extracurricular Activities
Beginning in the early 1970s, the local recreation department teamed up with Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL to provide what they called a “teen center” on Friday afternoons and evenings. One of the teachers, Johnny C., was the director, and he hired all of his teacher buddies to help him supervise the center. Basketball, floor hockey, table games, and soda drinks were available. Most of the students stayed after school for the teen center, and had their parents pick them up at 9:00 p.m. It was a great program that kept the Junior High students busy on Friday nights and on trips on the weekends rather than hang out a the local mall.
What made the teen center particularly memorable were the field trips to Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play baseball. Usually, these field trips took place on the weekends. The students would meet at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, and the school would provide yellow school buses to take the students to the stadium.
Yankee stadium was a day’s ride south of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, and with yellow school buses, it was even slower, since they could not go over 60 mph. Come the day to depart, hundreds of eager Junior High students were waiting for the buses to arrive. For each bus, two or three teachers were assigned to supervise that bus. Johnny C. loaded the buses and off they went to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. They got on the New York State Thruway, down past Harriman, past Nyack, and then over the Tappan Zee Bridge. The buses continued down past New Rochelle, until one of the buses had a flat tire. The bus driver pulled over at an emergency stop on the New York State Thruway and radioed the other buses and the dispatcher that he had broken down and would need another bus or someone to repair the tire. The four buses continued on to Yankee stadium, and one of the buses stayed with the bus with the flat tire.
An hour passed by, and the dispatcher said the replacement bus was coming from Long Island and would take forty-five minutes or more. Rather than wait that long and risk being late for the baseball game, it was decided to illegally put everyone on the other bus and double up all the students and have some students stand, since they were only thirty minutes from the stadium. Meanwhile, another bus was running low on gas. Someone had forgotten to fill up the tank with gas. That bus had to get off at an exit and go into Whitestone, New York, looking for a gas station.
Only two busses made it on time. The bus seeking gas wasted another one-half hour finding a gas station. The bus doubled up with students was over an hour and a half late to the stadium. Fortunately, they had left early enough not to miss the game which started at 1:00, noon. Johnny C. had all the tickets with him, and his bus got there first, so he sent his busload to the ticket office with two teachers to secure their seats. Eventually, the bus that had to gas up arrived, and an hour or so after that, the bus that was doubled up with students arrived. All the KakiatJunior High students were taken to the group ticket window and admitted to Yankee Stadium.
The game ended around 4:30, and everyone was ready to leave; however, after a head count one student was missing. So the search began for the missing student with no results. Johnny C. decided to load the buses and have the stadium PA system announcer tell the park that the Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL buses were leaving. Finally, the missing boy appeared. He had been in the bathroom with a bad case of the runs.
The buses departed at 4:30 with the replacement bus. They got on the Major Deegan expressway north and then worked their way over to the New York State thruway that was closer to the Hudson River. They were on the road for about thirty minutes when tragedy struck again. One of the busses was overheating, causing the bus to pull over to the side of the road. There was no emergency pull over available, so the bus driver had to pull onto the grass where the bus sank in the wet muddy grass under the weight of forty-five students and teachers.
Again, the radio call went out, but the other buses had continued on north and were our of walkie-talkie range. The bus driver called the dispatcher, and he called a tow truck to get the bus out of the muddy grass and to repair the radiator. The students had to stay on the bus until the tow truck arrived after almost an hour. They were not very cooperative, singing, clapping, and jumping around the whole time. When the tow truck finally came, the students all had to get off the bus, and stand by the woods off the side of the thruway. Eventually, the tow truck managed to pull the bus onto the roadside and put some fluid in the radiator.
It had already gotten dark, and the temperature was dropping to the low 50s. The students boarded the bus, and they headed north to Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. The parents waiting for the bus were beside themselves. Some had called the New York State troopers, and they were out looking for the bus too. Finally, over an hour after the planned arrival time, the last bus arrived. This was a typical teen center trip. Nearly all the trips the teen center took the buses for some reason got lost or broke down. Johnny C. had a reputation with his friends that if you wanted to get paid for supervising a field trip, you had better be prepared to either break down or get lost on the way.
The Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL Ski Club
The ski club also left on Friday nights, and their problem was always with the weather. Sometimes the weather was clear and cold, until the bus headed north into the mountains where it just happened to be snowing. The bus usually climbed over a local mountain as a short cut, but when it was snowing and icy, the bus had to spend an extra twenty minutes going around the mountain and taking an alternate route.
One such snowy evening, the bus for the ski club headed north only to run straight into an ice storm where the cars were all sliding off the road. They made it to the first exit of the New York State Northway that had a gas station and turned off the Northway to see if they had pay phones. Fortunately, they did have pay phones, so the ski club advisors decided to stop and let the students call their parents to come back to Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL to pick them up in about forty minutes. The bus had to turn around and creep slowly over icy roads back to Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. A potential night of skiing was wasted.
On another snowy evening, the bus made it to Albany, New York, where it broke down on the railroad tracks right in the middle of town. When the tow truck arrived fifty minutes later, the tow truck driver accidently put a hole in the gas tank while jacking the bus up to repair a flat tire. So the students got to eat all they could at a deli across the street for another hour, while the bus company sent another bus. The ski club usually arrived around 6:00 p.m. at the Gore Mountain Ski resort, but on this night, they arrived at 9:00 with only two hours of ski time left. It was an almost wasted night. The ski resort felt sorry for the students, so they gave them free passes for the remainder of the night.
Not to outdo the teen center in horror stories, the ski club was used to bus problems and other problems like first aid emergencies, because there was always the element of risk in skiing. Usually when a student was injured, the ski resort would call the parents for permission to take the student to the local hospital if a leg is broken or something. One cold and freezing night in January, a student smashed into a tree, and a branch went through part of the ski boot. The ski patrol brought him down to the first-aid shack, and the ski advisors were paged on the public address system. “Will the ski club advisor for Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL please report to the first-aid shack?” came the announcement.
The parents of the student were out for dinner that night and could not be contacted by phone. The only choice was to take the student in the bus to the local hospital. After all the KakiatJunior High students were done skiing, an announcement was made to start loading the bus early. After the bus was loaded with students, the student with the boot problem was loaded by the ski patrol with his leg in a cardboard splint.
The hospital was only five miles away, so the ski club advisors had the bus driver take them and all the students to the local hospital. This was in the days when there were no cell phones. When they got to the hospital the student was when it was permissible to take a student to an emergency room with parental permission. Meanwhile, the rest of the forty students waited on the bus. The parents were again called by the hospital, and they finally got through, and received permission to treat the boy.
After a half hour, some of the students had to go to the bathroom, so they were allowed to line up at the one, and only emergency room bathroom. The boys on the bus could not wait on the long line, so without the advisors’ knowledge or permission, they went over to the bushes at the edge of the parking lot and peed on the bushes. They all thought that peeing on the bushes was very funny. The ski club advisors did not hear about it until after the ski trip was over. Numerous phone calls had to be made on one pay phone to tell the parents that they would be late coming home. Keeping forty junior high students on a bus with nothing to do is like herding buffaloes into a small room. The doctors splinted the injured leg properly, and the ski club bus was on its way home.
One Friday night, a science teacher from another JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL and a friend came aboard the ski club bus as chaperones, and they had a bottle of peach brandy under their coat. The ski club advisor did not know that they had brought alcohol on the trip. The science teacher and his buddy drank the peach brandy all night. When it was time to leave, they were very drunk. They managed to get on the bus without being noticed and slept all the way home. The bus arrived back at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL at the usual time of 11:30 p.m., and the skis were unpacked, and all the cars left including the ski advisors.
The science teacher and his buddy were still in their cars warming the cars up. For some unknown reason, the science teacher decided he could not drive or see for that matter, since he was so drunk. He asked his buddy to drive him home, and he obliged. When the science teacher arrived home, he fell asleep until the next day. The next day, he and his wife were supposed to leave for Florida for the midwinter vacation. He got up, feeling a wicked hangover and looked out the kitchen window for his car. Surprise, no car was in sight. He put on his shoes and ran out the door looking for his car. Then it dawned on him. He had his buddy drive him home, and his car was still in the faculty parking lot at Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL.
He woke up his wife and explained he was under the weather the night before and left his car at the school and had his buddy had to drive him home. Well, his wife drove him to the school, and there was his car sitting in the parking lot with the engine still running. His wife “freaked out,” cursing and carrying on that the car was still running with the keys in the ignition. Someone could have stolen the car easily but luckily that did not happen. They took his car home, and his wife drove to Florida and did not talk to him the entire way.
For a few years, the ski club went to a local ski slope thirty minutes away from Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. Great Gorge was a full hour away and more expensive for lift tickets. The arrangement with the smaller local ski slope did not last long because the weather was always too warm, and even artificial snow could not be made for some bad winters. The local ski slope eventually went bankrupt after three seasons. For only $35, a student could get a full season pass with no weekend privileges. It was a bargain, and night skiing was like being free since the cost was so low.
One of the problems, however, was that some high school students who used to be part of the Kakiatski club were allowed to come on the bus to the local ski area. They brought with them lots of marijuana, which they smoked at the back of the bus with the windows open on the way to the slope and the way back. The ski advisors sensed something was wrong when the bus was so cold and the windows were open at the back of the bus, with the temperature outside around twenty-two degrees. One of the ski advisors went to the back of the bus to see why the windows were opened. He noticed a self-rolled cigarette thrown on the floor, which looked like a marijuana cigarette. He picked it up and examined it to determine whether it was a regular cigarette or a marijuana cigarette. It was definitely a marijuana cigarette.
There was a “no smoking” school policy and a “zero tolerance law” regarding drug abuse in the school district. The ski advisors stopped the bus and informed the students on the bus that they would be cancelling all the ski trips on Friday nights unless someone confessed on who was smoking marijuana and who brought the marijuana on the bus. After fifteen minutes, a group of junior high student came forward and told the advisors that the high school students were responsible. When the bus got back to Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, the high school students were told never to come with the ski club again, and for the rest of the season, all high school students were banned from the Kakiat JUNIOR HGH SCHOOL ski club trips.
On a midwinter school holiday, the ski club was planned to go to a more challenging mountain in the Northern Catskills of New York State. This Mountain was called Hunter Mountain, and it had beginner to advanced slopes. Unfortunately, the day of the trip it was raining. The deposits had already been sent to Hunter Mountain and the coach style bus reserved for $500 for the day. The advisors gave the students a chance to vote on going or cancelling the trip. Everyone voted to go because no on wanted to stay home with his or her parents.
So off the bus went to Hunter Mountain in the Catskill Mountains. It was several hours before Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL ski club got there. The rain was a downpour, and a fog was covering the top of the mountain. This was the first time anyone in the club had gone to Hunter Mountain, including the advisors. After the lift tickets were given out, the rental ski students went into the rental lodge to get their skis. Those that brought their own skis unloaded their skis from under the coach storage compartments. The ski patrol handed out garbage bags to the students before they hit the slopes. The students tore holes in the black bags and pulled them over their heads to fit over their ski jackets. Ski jackets are waterproof; however, they can get wet and damp in a downpour of rain.
Even when the students got to the beginner of intermediate slopes, they could not see the tops of the ski lifts, which disappeared into the fog at the top of the mountain. The snow was wet and slippery and very mushy. The ski advisors skied the beginner slope a few times to warm up and then headed to the intermediate slope but the line was too long, so they took the quad lift that went three-fourths of the way up the mountain. Sitting on a quad lift with the rain splashing in your face was quite an experience.
The advisors made jokes about falling off the lift and having no one to find their bodies until spring. Finally, through the fog there seemed to be the station for getting off the chair lift. Out of the fog came a huge white hill and a little building that was packed down for skiers to stand up and ski off the lift. It was very steep, and both advisors skied off and fell at the bottom of the ramp. Wiping themselves off, they could not see where the top or bottom of the mountain was due to the heavy rain and fog. Their strategy was to work across the mountain and to follow the downhill signs. The fog was so bad, they had to ski from tree to tree and then stop. There was some fear of skiing off K-27, a dreaded advanced downhill slope.
It took over an hour to get down the mountain. The visibility was zero on the mountain. It was a scary trip down the lift trail. They did not know they were at the end until the snow trail became flat. The Hunter Mountain lodge appeared out of the fog in front of them. It was time for a break, so they went into the lodge and camped out in front of the huge fireplace in the lodge. Dick Runner took off his ski boots, and water came flowing out of his boots. Mr. Medley did the same, and his boots were just as wet. Fortunately, everything was waterproof except the wool ski hats. They had to lay the boots, hats, and gloves close to the fire to get them to dry off. It was a hell of a rainy day for skiing.
After lunch, they took two more trail runs and then quit for the day with a hot rum drink to warm them in the Hunter Lodge. It was more of a survival day of skiing than normal skiing. Fortunately, there were no student injuries, and the students, despite the rain, had a good time socializing and skiing.
The bus was very quiet going home. Everyone was exhausted, and they all fell asleep, as well as the advisors, Dick the Runner and Bob Medley. The ski club was started in the early 1970s and had several club advisors, and it lasted into the 1990 until Dick and Bob retired, and the program died with them. It was all about leadership and the desire to enjoy skiing, since all the advisors were volunteers not paid, except Dick who ran the entire program.
The Annual Student Talent Show
Each year, the Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL student council would run a talent show to raise money for a senior (ninth grade) picnic. This was the opportunity for the characters in the faculty to show their true colors. One year, four male teachers formed a singing group and sung oldies from the Motown era. The students loved it, because they never really thought their teachers could do anything other than teach. Johnny C. was in the group, as well as the English department chairperson, a social studies teacher, and a physical education teacher who played the guitar. Many students had exceptional talent in music, tap dancing, singing and acting, and the annual talent show was their chance to show off.
The teacher vs. student softball game each year at the ninth-grade picnic was another opportunity for the characters to come out. The two lesbian teachers from science and music always starred on the softball games, much to the amazement of the students. Most of the younger men of the faculty played in the softball games and usually pounded homeruns beyond the outfielders. Several of the teachers had been outstanding college athletes when they were in college and were the mainstay of the teacher team. The students never won a game in all thirty years that the ninth-grade picnic was run. It was still a fun game.
Another athletic event every year was the teacher vs. student basketball game to raise money for the yearbook or student picnics. Here is where the student basketball players had an edge over the teachers. Basketball requires much more conditioning than softball, so the students often lead in the score in basketball. Thanks only to a few teachers taller than six feet that made a difference for the teachers in being able to feed the tall teachers over the height of the students.
The students beat the teachers every other year depending on their basketball player talent. For the teachers, elbowing was the move of the day and fouling under the basket by throwing their weight around over the lighter student players. The teachers always had lots of injuries and substitutes were very important. Again, the two lesbian teachers were right in the mix, shooting shots and passing the ball as good as the men. Funny thing is none of the woman physical education teachers ever played in softball or basketball games for whatever reason. The reason might be that they were way out of shape physically and unable to play basketball with good players.
Chapter 8 – Teacher Stories
Some of the funniest situations occurred in the classrooms. The first story is about a social studies teacher who was talking about AIDS and how at the time in the 1980s, they thought the disease began in Africa by people eating green monkeys. After the teacher got done reading about this AIDS research, he asked the class, “What does this tell us about AIDS and green monkeys?”
One black student at the back of the class quickly raised his hand and said, “I have the answer, this shows us that the people in Africa were piping them monkeys.” There was a silence in the class for thirty seconds, and then the entire class and the teacher laughed. (“Piping them monkeys” became one of the funniest teacher stories told over and over every year.)
Teacher Bicycle Riding Stunts
Two teachers from Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, who were buddies, were bicycling through a local upstate river town one Saturday. One teacher was fiddling with his bike odometer when suddenly a car started backing into him right in the middle of town. It was noontime on a Saturday, and the entire town of Troy had restaurants that were full of tourists having lunch. The teacher’s bike flipped upside down, as he squeezed only one brake lever. He landed on his butt right in the middle of the street. A policeman came running up asking if he was OK. He said he was fine. Meanwhile, his friend on the other bike was laughing uncontrollably. The tourists sitting, having lunch, thought it was all part of the entertainment in town, and they got up and clapped the clownlike stunt. Embarrassed, the teachers rode off. The uninjured teacher laughed for the rest of the twenty-mile bike ride.
That next Monday morning, while in his classroom, Mr. Smith overheard his fellow bicycle friend talking in the classroom next to his. What he heard was: “This is the topography of the Hudson River, the Palisades, and here in this little river town of Piermont, Mr. Smith flipped his bicycle last Saturday. Right here is where I have a flag tacked on the spot where the accident occurred.” The class all laughed loudly at the story. Naturally, that story spread around the school in no time with many students asking Mr. Smith if he actually flipped his bicycle in the middle of Main Street at the little river town of Troy.
Richard Flynn, an Out-of-Control Student
Student discipline in the 1960s and 1970s was difficult for teachers, because they were not forewarned in advance of troublemakers or students with special needs. There was a major lack of communication between the administration and the teachers. One such student, called Richard Flynn, was causing every teacher in the school problems by speaking out in class and fooling around all the time. He started speaking out in a science teacher’s class. The teacher asked him to leave the room, and Richard refused. Finally, when the teacher indicated that he was going to lift Richard out of the chair, he got up and headed to the door.
The teacher followed, and as Richard got to the door, he told the science teacher to “fuck off” and gave him the middle finger. The teacher, who was right behind him, grabbed Richard by his shirt and lifted him off the ground and banged him into the wall. Richard’s body hit the light switches, and the lights went off dramatically as Richard bounced off the wall. In the 1990s and 2000s, that would have been reason enough for that teacher to be fired even if he was right. It is just another example how discipline rules change over time.
A teacher was sitting in homeroom waiting for the late bell to ring, and a female student was standing in the doorway. A boy student came along, and out of the clear blue, without any provocation, he coldcocked the girl right in the doorway. It was such a brutal punch to the jaw that the girl fell to the floor. The girl was stunned and partially unconscious. The teacher jumped out of his chair and ran to see if the girl was all right. He asked her if she could see his hand in front of her and if she could breathe OK. She said yes. The teacher got up hurriedly from attending to the girl and quickly grabbed by his shirt collar the boy that had punched her.
The teacher was very angry with the student, and he held the student by the collar all the way down the hallway until they got to the assistant principal’s office. When the teacher got to the office, it was then that he realized that the student’s feet were off the ground and that he had held the student up in the air all the way down the hallway. Fortunately, the assistant principal did not make a big deal of it.
The student was expelled from school for a week for assault. The reason the boy punched the girl was because she was his girlfriend, and he heard she was seeing someone else at the same time. The parents of the girl sued the school and the parents of the boy, and settled for an undisclosed amount of money years later.
A female social studies teacher was in her classroom when a student burst out with a string of curses. The teacher took the student outside in the hallway and slapped him lightly in the face, and told him never to talk like that in his class every again. Strangely, that student became best friends with the social studies teacher for the rest of the three years he attended Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. In today’s times, the social studies teacher would have been brought up on child abuse charges and eventually fired. In those days, it was called “tough love.”
ADD (Attention Deficient Disorder) Students
Two seventh-grade boys began school one year with a long discipline record from their elementary school. The guidance department warned the teachers of these students that they were going to be a problem in class due to their past behavior. Every teacher that had these two students in class ended up sending them to the assistant principal for detention. They were constantly in trouble, fighting during the lunchtime, arguing in class, and throwing spitballs in class. They simply could not sit still.
After many guidance conferences, the psychologist recommended that the parents come in for a meeting. It was decided that both boys were ADD (attention deficient disorder) and hypoactive (the opposite of hyperactive). They were given amphetamines, which would normally speed up a person’s body, but in the case of these two boys their chemistry was radically different. The drug actually calmed them down. The change in their behavior was like night and day; they were less hyper and very quiet in class after being given the medication. This was an example of drugging a student to correct their behavior problems. This became the norm in latter years with parent approval for students classified as hyperactive and hypoactive.
A female English teacher, who was very creative, had many paper projects hanging in her classroom. Some of the projects got crumbled and were tossed on the radiator by the window where there was a space between the radiator and the wall. This did not seem like a smart idea because the paper could catch fire from the radiator. One day, in the middle of second period of the day (10:15 a.m.), the papers next to the radiator burst into flames from the heat, and the classroom was engulfed in flames from the floor to the ceiling in a matter of minutes. All the students rushed out of the class, and the teacher quickly called the office for the fire department on the intercom, before the room filled with smoke and flames. All the computers melted down to piles of plastic, and the desks burned to the metal frames.
The fire department has to enter the building from the second floor outside classroom to get to the inside classroom, knocking down the outside wall and windows with an axe on a ladder. Water was everywhere, and most of it poured through the floor, destroying a lot of books in the library that was on the first floor underneath the classroom. This was the first time Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL had a real fire. Everyone was evacuated, and all the students and teachers had to stand outside in forty-degree cold weather for two hours before the fire department finished.
The next problem that occurred was the students were not allowed back into the building because of the smoke. The school buses had to be called early, and the students all had to go home without their coats and books. The second floor of the building was a disaster area after the fire. The two rooms that the walls were broken down by the fireman had to be closed up with plywood, and the classes had to be relocated for the entire semester. The smell of smoke lasted for two months. Hundreds of library books were destroyed from water damage, and the library was closed due to water damage for the rest of the school year.
The Live Animal Archery Unit
The physical education classes were outside in the spring on a nice warm day in an archery unit. The targets were placed fifteen yards away on the high hill behind the gym, so that the arrows, if they missed, would stick in the grass on the hill. The physical education teacher instructed the students to stop shooting when he blew the whistle. Safety procedures were reviewed, and the teacher demonstrated how to shoot an arrow. One day, while a class was shooting at the targets, a daring squirrel decided to run across the hill behind the targets.
Before the physical education teacher could blow his whistle and stop the shooting, the entire class aimed and shot at the squirrel as it ran across the hill. Fortunately, no one hit it, but it was a very scary and funny moment, and ten arrows stuck in the grass and not in the squirrel.
Sperms with Shields
In a health education class, the teacher was teaching about sperms and eggs and how they get fertilized. He drew some chalk pictures on the blackboard showing the eggs and sperms. He was talking about spermicide and how it doesn’t always work to prevent fertilization, and in a moment of humor, he teased the students by telling them the sperms had little shields to block off the spermicide. No one questioned that statement.
When the test came up on reproduction, a fill-in-the-blank question asked “how a girl could get pregnant, even after using a spermicide.” Several students filled in “by the sperms having shields.”
Teachers needed to stay in touch with parents.
Chapter 9 – A Cast of Characters
Sometimes, it is hard to believe how many different kinds of people comprise a faculty in a school. There certainly was a cast of characters on the faculty at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL over a period of forty years. Unfortunately, the staff dwindled from declining student enrollment from 120 in the early 1970s to less than fifty in the late 1990s.
The Fine Arts Department
First, there was the art department chairperson who was an older man with a mustache that took up his whole face. Many teachers called him the “mole” because he would always run to the principal and tell tales. He was the teacher who “spilled the beans” on Joe Bigone after he saw Joe getting out of a VW bus with a student. Every time there was a secret going around the faculty, this was the guy who ran to the principal to tell the story. No one in the teachers’ union trusted him.
The other art teacher “was one of a kind, with creativity and personality.” She personally cut and put in the tiles on the floor in the entrance to Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. It was a head of a Native American Sioux chief wearing a feather bonnet.
She had the students make hand puppets every year, and they went to the elementary schools and did little puppet shows for the younger children. Every fall, she set out a major display of student art work relating to a fall theme with pumpkins, corn stalks, wooden fences, hay bales, gourds, and Native American crafts with beads. She was a beautiful woman and very forceful but kind at the same time. The students loved her. She also had a mouth like a truck driver when she was with other teachers in the teacher lounge or in a meeting. She loved to curse rather than use proper English.
One such incident was when she came into the teachers’ lounge all upset one day. “That fucking kid was looking up my dress the whole class. I had to tell him to stop it several times, the horny little bastard. Can you believe those kids?” she exclaimed. “I have to remember to cross my legs in front of the class all the time or the little bastards all get hard-ons in class,” she went on to say. Everyone in the room laughed and laughed at her vulgar but funny cursing story. She was a very liberal and funny woman and a real character on the faculty.
The librarian was a nice lady, who was married to the director of the music program until they retired early and took an RV, and drove around the United States. Normally, the personnel requirement was that husband and wife could not work in the same building. They were single teachers at first, and later on got married while working at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. Amazingly, there was never any sexual story to tell about the two of them.
The English Department
The English department has a nice black lady, a white Italian department chairman, and mostly all white men, and white women in the department. One such male white teacher, Mr. Paulie Padwa, was severely obese (500 lbs.) and often fell asleep at his desk. Amazingly, his students just talked among themselves while the teacher nodded off.
On his desk was a large jar of hard candy that seemed like a good idea for students that needed a candy reward. The only problem was that the candy had melted and stuck together in a giant glob of candy. It was impossible to remove the candy from the jar. When this obese teacher had lunch, he would bring a salad in number ten giant size jars, big enough for five people,, and eat the entire salad. Then he would drink a quart of soda, and then break out the cookies, and pastries he loved to eat. He had the best diet in the world; eat whatever you want so long as you eat salad with it. He survived the first two principals, but the third principal made it his endeavor to have this teacher retired or fired. Prejudice against severely obese teachers was a common practice in the 1970s and 1980s.
Notice after notice, piled up in this teacher’s file. He was even threatened with being fired, but he s never changed. Finally, after a bout with poor health and adult diabetes II, he took paid sick leave for several months and retired early because he could no longer teach. Sadly, he was a nice man who could not control his appetite or his weight that was around 500 pounds.
Another English teacher, Mr. Wilson, had a stomach problem and used to eat dozens of antacid pills a day. He also complained of respiratory problems due to the ventilation in the new extension building, but was never able to prove his case. Several teachers, over the years, that worked in the extension building all died of lung cancer or emphysema. It may be a coincidence or it may have been a real problem with the ventilation in the extension. Years later, Mr. Wilson had a heart attack in his forties. Maybe he really didn’t have stomach problem, and his stomach problems were just masking a heart problem.
The English department chairman, Mr. Francis Cartoone, was well liked and often had teachers eat lunch in his prep room instead of in their own rooms or the teachers’ cafeteria. He was one of the few department chairpersons that were not part of the “old-school group.” He inherited his position after the original English department chairperson retired. Many an interesting discussions ensued in that prep room. Everything was discussed—from politics, to students that were troublemakers, to antiprincipal discussions.
Mr. Cartoone, the English department chairman, had a great tenor voice and often sang with other teachers in the student variety shows. In the early 1990s, he helped to frame the technology grant proposal that earned Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL $200,000 in computer technology grant money. He was always a leader in the school and active in coaching teams as well.
The black lady in the English department was another sweet person, who tried to do the right thing, especially with black students, but she could not communicate with them on their level for some reason. Maybe the reason was that she was too smart for the black students. She was one of the teachers who burned out early in the 1980s and retired to enjoy life outside of a school. She had been divorced and had a daughter who attended college. To pay for the daughter in college, she worked beyond the usual retirement age until she finally got tired of school politics and retired. Many of the students, black or white, liked her, and she was a very popular teacher and a good mentor to many students.
The Science Department
In science, there was the young lesbian teacher who was a bit butch but pretty at the same time. She taught science and coached the track team at the high school. Several of the men were attracted to her, only to find out she preferred women instead. She was however, an excellent science teacher that commanded the respect of her students. Eventually, she would run into trouble with the principal when she requested permission to leave early so she could get to the high school that she left earlier for track practice. The principal denied her request because he did not want to set a precedent with other coaches that wanted to also leave early for high school coaching duties. Eventually, she transferred to the high school in the middle of the year to replace another teacher who had left, screwing the principal that refused to let her leave early by leaving him with only a replacement sub teacher for the remainder of the year.
The science department chairman was one of the old school older teachers who came over from South Mountain High Junior High with the first principal in 1960. He was one of the old guards that did little actual work. The department chairpersons were all men and all in their late fifties and early sixties. They were supposed to do evaluations of new teachers and approve each teacher’s weekly lesson plan. Instead, they played cards a lot in a locked room with no windows on the door.
The science chairman, Samuel Moonski, taught a light load of only three classes a day instead of five classes a day. Often, he would leave school early to go shopping for food for his home. He was caught coming back to school once with all the food on his backseat. He was one of those department chairmen who took advantage of their freedom and lack of supervision by the principal and often left school in the middle of the day and came back before the school was over. He was not well liked by his science teachers because he never did any work, nor did he support any science teachers that had problems with certain children.
One older science teacher, George Morehouse, was always a show at the faculty meetings. George would always have to get up and object to a motion or lose his temper over some unimportant item on the agenda. He was actually funny in a way, because the teachers never got used to his actions. The principal, on the other hand, thought he was a “pain in the ass.” Before he became a teacher, he was a pharmacist in a former life. He was actually a marathon distance runner, and he and Dick Runner ran thirty to fifty miles a week. George participated in several New York City marathons also. Not bad for a guy in his sixties that had never run before in his life.
He retired when his wife was seriously ill with cancer in the 1980s. He was the only science teacher at the time certified to teach earth science. He passed the torch to his fellow teacher, Dick Runner, who had to be recertified in earth science. The incoming department chairman was not certified in earth science and was unable to grab these treasured classes.
Dick Runner was another extraordinary science teacher at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. He worked his way up the ranks, starting with teaching below-level basic science students in his first few years of teaching. Eventually, he inherited the earth science program from George Morehouse. George was an outstanding baseball athlete in Albany State University and loved to compete in any sport. He coached the football team for a while, ran the science club, the ski club, worked at the teen center, and got involved wherever possible.
Eventually, he became a baseball coach at the high school level in addition. Dick was a highly motivated teacher as demonstrated by his classroom and the many demonstrations set up around the perimeter of the class. The students all loved him, and he returned their affection with a deep concern for their success in earth science. Dick was the first teacher to start the field trips to the Schooner on the Hudson River for ecology. He took many summer training courses in science and ecology and rapidly advanced himself to a master’s degree plus sixty credits that was a difficult thing to do while teaching full-time. Dick’s leadership and personality were one of the reasons for the many successful years at Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL.
The Social Studies Department
The social studies department chair was another one of the “old guard” who had collected the largest collection of overhead transparencies regarding social studies for grades 7–12 in the entire district. He was a bald heavyset man that was a state park policeman in the summers. His big bid for technology was collecting commercially made overhead plastic transparencies that he used with an overhead projector. That was the extent of technology in those days.
Unfortunately, all of these transparencies he collected were out of date by the 1980s when computer projectors came into use. By the 1990s, they were extinct. The Internet allowed for a new exchange of information that, through a laptop computer or desktop computer, could be projected on any size screen. Laser disks the size of large apple pies were also in use for a few years in the late 1980s. The CDs, DVDs eventually replaced overhead transparencies completely as well as better diagrams and pictures from the Internet. This social studies department chairman finally retired in the late 1980s and took with him all ten-file cabinets of outdated overhead transparencies rather than give them to his fellow social studies teachers.
One outstanding social studies teacher used many unique methods of getting the students attention regarding social studies. One technique he used was to act out the Lincoln debate with Douglas with another social studies teacher. He and another social studies teacher would prepare their notes from history and debate the issues Lincoln and Douglas were concerned with when they running for the Senate in Illinois. Douglas was the incumbent at the time.
Another thing this Johnny C. did was to bring in historical experts to talk about their specialty. He also worked with the librarian to secure a Civil War exposition for two weeks in the library with artifacts from the Civil War on display. He always made social studies fun and exciting for all of his students. He was also the football coach and that gave him an advantage in dealing with the many football players in the school. Johnny C. was also the football coach, the floor hockey club advisor, and the school public address speaker.
Every morning on the PA his booming voice came on with “Good Morning Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL.” He called the gym the Kakiatstadium and had nicknames for all the teachers in the school. Some of his favorite nicknames were Dick the Roadrunner Smith Who Never Graduated from Albany State University, Lee the Tree Jones, Al the Mauler Greenspan, Jerry the Jumper Steinfeld, Mark the Crusher, and Marvin the Marvelous. He had the students laughing every morning listening to the morning announcements. Many students asked Dick, the Runner, whether it was true that he never graduated from Albany State University. Of course, it was all a joke to get laughs. Johnny C. missed his calling and should have been a radio announcer instead of a teacher. He had the gift of gab and was loved by all the students.
There were many teachers in the social studies department, all white men with only one black woman. The black teacher survived by playing to the black students’ interests, and in running a black girls’ club in which almost all of the black girls in the school belonged. One year when she was having a formal evaluation done by the principal (who used to be a social studies teacher before he became an administrator), she gave the student incorrect dates for historical events. She never lived that down, and the principal made it a favorite story of how some teachers did not properly prepare for their classes by confirming dates and events properly. Her teaching quality was obviously poor from her evaluations, but no administrator dare try and fire her because she was black.
Another social studies teacher who just happened to be Irish was a really nice guy to talk to, but a boring teacher in class. His method of teaching was to put all the notes on the blackboard and have the student just take notes. What got him in trouble was his anti-Semitic remarks and jokes about Jewish people when 70 percent of the teaching staff were Jewish including the administration. In his defense, however, he was purposely given the below-level students because the principal wanted to force him to retire. He had survived two principals before because he had tenure and wasn’t open to change in his pedagogy.
At the point in time the early 1980s, the below-level students were considered learning challenged students, but not enough to qualify for special education status. The hierarchy in a junior high was that the department chairpersons got to teach the honors or AP courses, if they were qualified. Otherwise, the teacher with the most seniority and tenure, of course, got to teach the honors classes or AP classes. Then the next level down of teachers who had been at the school for at least five to ten years and remained in good favor with the department chair got to teach the on-level students. The part-time or “low in favor” teachers got shafted with an all below-level set of classes. So the below-level teachers got the worst teachers rather than the best teachers. Eventually, after year after year of bad evaluations the Irish teacher Kelly Obrien was forced into retirement because he would not try modern methods of teaching or embrace technology.
Home Economics (Later Called Career Development)
There were only two home economics teachers in the school, and they taught sewing and cooking. In later years, the home economics curriculum was expanded to cover domestic issues and more of the theoretical aspects of home budgeting, balancing a checkbook, etc.
One home economics teacher was Chinese, Mrs. Sun, and a real sweetheart. She was always trying to please everyone. If someone wanted to drive into New York City to go to Chinatown, she would write Mandarin on the back of a business card for them to show the Chinese waiters in Chinatown. The Chinese waiters were always impressed with the writing and request for special Chinese meal by the economics teacher.
When Mrs. Sun’s classes baked cookies, the smell spread throughout the entire building. She always brought extra cookies to teachers’ classrooms when she had extras. Lots of time, she would have the students bake minipizzas. The only downside to this baking is the students brought their cookies and pizzas to their next class and continued to eat what they had or share it with their friends which usually disrupted the entire class. The other home economics teacher lasted a decade longer than the Chinese teacher due to student attrition throughout out the forty years of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL.
Industrial Arts, Wood Shop, and Metal Shop
Industrial arts teachers were a breed all their own. The first industrial arts teacher used to have his students carve Indian totem poles each year and donate them to the school to be placed in the front hallway. When he retired, the totem pole heritage died with him.
The industrial arts teachers taught wood shop and metal shop in the early days, before they were reduced to one woodshop program only in the late 1980s and 1990s. They had the biggest rooms of any program in the school other than the auditorium for the music department. They also had one of the biggest budgets since all the wood and metal were used in student projects. Some boys and girls really excelled in shop because they got to do hands-on education.
One industrial arts teacher, Red Blaston, had a major temper and ran afoul with every principal that he served under. His temper matched his name, Red. He once stormed out of a meeting with the principal and punched his fist through the window in the office door. He was forced to pay for the replacement window. At all the faculty meetings, he was always the most outspoken and always angry with some issue. The principal was dedicated to having him removed, and since he could not get enough to fire him because he had tenure, he had him transferred to North High Mountain JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL instead.
The music department had one white male teacher, who was the director of the band (Mr. Bango); one lesbian teacher (Betty Strong); and one black female teacher (Bertha Best). The three of them had to handle the orchestra, band, and instrumental programs as well as the mandatory seventh-grade chorus program.
Students could choose between chorus and band. Betty Strong was very popular with the teachers and students because she was a spark of a personality. She was always energetic and always looking out for students’ rights. She kept her lesbian situation quiet with the students but came out of the closet with her fellow teachers. She was one of the major reasons why the music program was so successful. Because she did not have seniority, she got most of the chorus programs with black and white students that did not want to be there. She could not control the black students even though she herself was black. It was no advantage for her. She was a sweet person, who years later got pregnant and had twins, then lost her sonority while she was out on maternity leave. When she returned, she was part-time at first. She was forced to travel between two schools. Eventually, she returned full-time to Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL when the music director retired and a full- time position became available.
Foreign Language Department
The foreign language department was small with a department chairperson, a female who taught French, and two other teachers that taught Spanish and French. In the 1970s, to please the black students, Swahili was taught. When the school had 1,600 students, even Hebrew was offered since many Jewish students wanted to take it. Italian was offered for a few years, but was eventually dropped as the student enrollment dropped. The department chairperson for foreign languages was a real character or rather she was hated by almost the entire faculty. She drove to school in a Jaguar, which her doctor husband bought, and she was always distant and felt she was better than other teachers. Her students all transferred from her class to the other French or Spanish teachers’ class to get away from her. She had a hateful attitude and spoke her mind that did not make her loved any more.
The other foreign language teacher taught Spanish and was well liked by her students. She was a collector of Colonial War uniform buttons. She had hundreds of buttons at home on all the walls in collector’s boxes.
Nurses and Nurse-Teachers
The nurses used to teach health education classes during the 1960s until the board of education cut their status from nurse-teacher to school nurse. They received a corresponding reduction in pay from the teacher payroll to staff payroll, as a result saving the school district a lot of salary money. School nurses came and went every year. It was a constant turnover in school nursing. It was a lot of paperwork and yearly hearing and scoliosis tests to administer also. It was constantly a crisis center that burned out most school nurses in a few years.
The pay scale was below the teacher pay scale and far below what a nurse would be paid in local hospitals; hence, many nurses left when they could get a better job. When there was a major drug problem with the students in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, the school nurses were involved in a lot of legal lawsuits by parents trying to protect their drug-abusing children. Eventually a “zero tolerance” rule relating to drug selling or major drug abuse meant a student caught smoking or using drugs would be thrown out of the district and have to go to another school district if they were under sixteen years of age. Students over sixteen could be expelled permanently and be forced to go to night school if they wanted to graduate.
The guidance department had a department chairperson, and he was directly supervised by one of the assistant principals in charge of the school class schedule. The school schedule of classes was done manually for many years before computer-scheduling program was developed in the 1980s. The guidance teachers helped every student select their courses when there were choices. Mostly, the ninth-grade students were the only ones that had room in their schedule for electives.
Many of the guidance counselors lasted for many years until student enrollment kept dropping, and one by one, they were transferred or let go. There was one black guidance counselor who tried to look out for the special interests of the black students when he possibly could do so without being discriminatory. He was an older man who retired early in the 1980s. He was well liked by most of the faculty because he was someone who tried to work with the teachers when they had problem students that they wanted to transfer.
Special Education Department
The special education department included mentally handicapped students in a self-contained classroom, learning disabled students in a self-contained classroom, and emotionally handicapped students in a self-contained classroom. The emotionally handicapped students practically destroyed the entire school atmosphere because they were problem children from New York City gangs.
The courts made these gang kids wards of the court and sent them to live in group homes in the High Mountain school district. Emotionally handicapped students used to be housed in BOCES buildings, but due to budget cutbacks, they had to be placed in regular schools. They were the students that had dangerous tempers and were considered violent. They were mainstreamed if possible, but often after one major outburst, the teachers feared for their safety and the safety of the regular students in their class, and they were removed permanently. They always had an aide go to all their mainstreamed classes with them because they were so difficult to control.
The mentally handicapped class was eventually transferred to North High Mountain JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, because having the emotionally handicapped and mentally handicapped in one building was too much for the KakiatJunior High administration to handle in one school.
For a short while, there was a unique alternative education class called the IPC or individual progress class. A female and a male teacher taught or at least try to control these students that could not qualify for a special education IEP (individual education plan) but were so disruptive that they had to be taken out of the mainstream curriculum. One unique thing they did in the IPC class was take care of little animal pets from snakes to rabbits, mice, rats, and baby birds. The male teacher was tough enough to slap any of the disruptive students up against the wall with great force. The students both feared him and liked him. They knew not to get him angry.
The learning-disabled students read at a second-grade level and required an aide and a teacher to run each self-contained classroom. They were mainstreamed in physical education, arts, and home economics. If they could perform, they were sometimes mainstreamed into below-level math or below-level English or science, but that was not often the case. There were between four and five special Education teachers and five aides in Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL.
They had a major effect on the overall education of the other students since they were often in a favored status by the administration. On of the assistant principals was in charge of all the special education a class, and she fought for them to have special privileges and was always the defender of the special education student “who could do no wrong.”
The special education classes had movie days on Fridays with popcorn as an incentive for behavior modification. No regular classroom teacher was allowed to do this. They called it “behavioral modification” for special education students as if it was the best method of dealing with students having special needs. What it really should have been called was “if you do what I want you to do, you will receive a lollipop or some reward.” They had the aides doing their homework for them, and the students were spoiled a great deal. Each learning-disabled student had their own IEP or individual education plan that had to be approved by the students’ parents and was followed completely by the special education teachers and administrators.
The special education teachers had a resource room with a resource teacher who took care of the special education students when they had no regular mainstreamed class or assigned self-contained class. The purpose of the resource teacher was to back up and support what the regular special education teacher was trying to do. The special education teachers were a tight-knit social group who always ordered Chinese food every Friday. Some Fridays, they ordered for them and the students pizzas that smelled throughout the school. None of the regular teachers were allowed these liberties. If they wanted to order Chinese food, they usually had to eat it outside the building and not in the school.
Many teachers ate in their own classrooms because of the politics in the teachers’ cafeteria. By the 1980s, the teachers’ cafeteria was done away with because no one wanted to eat lunch with the principal or administrators. As for software and technology skills, the special education teachers were in the Ice Ages as to their competency. They used the Apple computer labs as a game room. They loaded the Apple computers with a game and then sat down and chatted with one another over a cup of coffee. It was like having a break period. The assistant principal, who hardly ever supervised the special education teachers, never caught on to this little break period with special education students.
The Math Department and Computer Labs
The math department chairman, who had the most seniority, always got to teach the honors math classes, and when computer basic was popular, he taught those classes also. He retired with the highest percentage a teacher could get by waiting to retire long after he should have retired. He went out with 75 percent of his final salary, thanks to a retirement incentive to retire, and a long career as a teacher. Eventually, the retirement incentive went to teachers aged fifty-five, and they were offered one-half of their regular salary in addition to their regular salary to retire at age fifty-five. If they did not retire at fifty-five, they got nothing at age fifty-six. The math department chairman retired in his sixties, so he had accumulated a lot of retirement money plus the bonus.
To the math department chairman’s credit, he was smart enough to keep the computer lab in the math department. In the 1980s, Apple sold the first Apple Pet computers that were all one piece to schools around the United States for only $400 each. It was a bargain, and schools everywhere bought the computers. The problem was there was not a lot of software available at first, just a lot of simple games and math programs.
For special education, this was a boon because the teachers had no clue how to run computers, but they did realize how to turn the computer on and off and how to insert the disks with the programs on them. The rest of the class, the special education teachers stood around drinking coffee and chatting while the special education students played on games. They said the games were educational. Actually, they were a free period for the teachers and playtime for the students. It was a gross misuse of the computers. Had the teachers been trained how to use the computers, things might have been different.
Some of the smartest teachers in the school worked in the math department. They had to be able to teach everything from basic math to algebra and geometry. AP or advanced placement courses were also offered to the brightest math students who wanted college credit.
By 1992, Microsoft came out with the first version of PowerPoint, and that program really caught on with junior high students who loved graphics, sound, and animation. At this point in time, the special education teachers were embarrassed into learning PowerPoint because the health education teacher used it extensively in his classes, and when the special education students had problems working with PowerPoint, the special education teachers and aides did not know what to do to help them.
Undertrained BOCES computer repairman did the repairs to the mainframe IBM computer in the math department. The way BOCES got around a lack of experience with their technicians was with a cell phone or the school phone. The BOCES technician would call the director and ask him what to do. The director would then tell the technician what to do step-by-step. Sometimes, they would spend all day working on a problem that an experienced computer repairperson could do in one hour. This leasing of services and computers was a cost-cutting measure by the district to offset the initial cost of buying computers. At that time, no one knew how long the computers would last.
The $200,000 Technology Award
In the early 1990s, Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL won a $200,000 technology award and had sixty IBM computers installed in the building on a fiber optic network. The repairman would call the one person at the headquarters that knew how to repair computers, and he would tell them step-by-step how to repair the computers. What a joke that was.
When major problems occurred, BOCES would send four or five of these computer monkeys to fix the problem. The High Mountain school district leased the services of the BOCES computer monkeys and also leased the IBM computers from BOCES to keep the cost lower than buying the computers. As the students learned to use graphics and PowerPoint by 1995, the server crashed all the time because it was overloaded and did not have enough memory to handle all sixty stations online at one time. The math department took credit for the Apple and IBM computer labs, and that was a good move, because in other schools, they created a computer department instead. This way, the math teachers had to learn computers and save their jobs at the same time.
The Custodian Department (Daytime)
The first custodian in the 1960s was a guy who had worked his way up the ladder. He built an office within the office and seldom came out. He also ran a cleaning business on the side, which may be why lots of cleaning supplies disappeared year after year. He was also known to be an alcoholic. If you wanted anything done in your area of the school, it was important to make sure you gave him a Christmas present of a bottle of booze or he made sure nothing was ever done right in your department.
Eventually, he retired, and the next custodian tore down the office within an office and started a whole new openness in the custodian department at least for a while. He was the one who brought in the soda machines to the school with kickbacks to the principal for his slush fund. He made thousands of dollars a month because junior high kids have to have soda for lunch and soda to take home on the bus every day.
For the teen center and other special events at the school, the soda machine was making top dollar. This custodian was friendly with a lot of teachers; that was unusual, since teachers didn’t usually fraternize with staff personnel in the building. He made it a point to walk around the school during the day and chat with teachers along the way. His days were numbered when he crossed the principal one time too many. He was eventually transferred to another school.
The Security Guards
The security guards were the joke of the school because they were nothing but a bunch of old people who could not get jobs elsewhere and were willing to work for minimal wages. They first were hired in the early 1970s because the teachers’ union made it clear that overall school discipline and breaking up fights was not a teacher’s responsibility. Local retired police were considered but would not take the job because of the low pay. The board of education set such low salaries that all they could get were retirees and those who were desperate for a job.
One security guard was a beloved old retired Irishman that worked into his seventies before they pushed him out since he could not break up fights or run when there was an emergency. The principal retired him with a retirement party when he was in his late seventies. There were also two women security guards, a black lady and a Latino lady. The Latino lady actually had a college degree, but it was from another country which was not valid in the United States. She was very intelligent but a mole for the administration, like the art teacher. She loved to tell on the teachers for some reason, and none of the teachers ever trusted her.
The black security guard lady was another sweet person who actually liked the kids and was often very helpful at special events. She had no rapport with the black students, however. On one occasion, the principal hired a young black guy who was very effective with the students because he could break up fights. He lasted but a few years because the pay was so low. He left for a police job in a local town.
The security guards, more than anything else, were a set of “eyes” around the building to keep track of students in the hallway and for escorting misbehaving students to the discipline office. They often filled in for an absent teacher in the in-school suspension room also. They also illegally filled in for an absent teacher or when a teacher did not show up for a class. The administration used this as a last-minute course of action, since the department chairpersons were usually not available.
After school during basketball games or football games, security roamed the halls to keep out intruders. The teachers treated them as subcitizens, since none of the security guards were real security or police personnel and had little or no authority or power in the school. Security guards were necessary because of the inability or desire of teachers to take charge of hall or cafeteria discipline. Whenever a teacher tried to break up a fight or stop a student running in the hallway they got injured and never did it again. Angry students, emotionally disturbed students, or physically large students would assault teachers once in a while. Teachers learned to shy away from physically stopping students from doing the wrong thing for fear of getting injured. It was easier to call for security than handle the problem by oneself.
One female teacher was standing in the hallway between classes when the late bell rang and a student late for class came running down the hall. She turned to see the student at the last minute, and she yelled, “Stop!” The student knocked her down so hard that she was unconscious, and he kept running. Afterward, the security guards found the student and brought him to the principal’s office. The female teacher suffered a concussion and four weeks out of work in recovering from the incident. That set an example for other teachers in the school to look the other way or get out of the way with students running down the hallway.
Chapter 10 – Teacher Burnout
Being a teacher is being subject to routine and, eventually, boredom and staleness. Teachers have to reinvent themselves every year and every few years so that they do not become subject to complacency in teacher. Teaching techniques are always changing, and technology had a major effect on teachers changing their teaching pedagogy. The blackboard-and-chalk days of teaching were quickly discarded for easy-to-erase white boards where you could use colored markers and not get chalk rubbing off on your clothing. As blackboards get old, they tend to turn grey, and chalk writing is hard to be seen at the back of the classrooms.
“Burning out” was the biggest fear of many teachers. After a while, the politics, the frustrations, the daily routine, and the low salary tend to take their toll, and teachers begin to wish they had chosen another career. All teachers become teachers because “they want to make a difference.” When reality comes a knocking, and after ten years of teaching, they find they are making little money and making no difference in students’ lives, they begin to doubt themselves. Then starts the process of “teacher burnout.” Some teachers who cannot get a grip on their “burnout” end up quitting and handing in their resignations to the principal. Some go out mad over administrator policies or unfair dealings with the principal. Often, a principal has the power to make a teacher’s life miserable, and they are good at it whether it serves the mission of the school or education or not.
When a teacher, by chance, has a bad teaching schedule, it can wear them out. A bad teaching schedule is one in which three periods are taught in a row without a break or one that has a free period every other period. Teachers get into a rhythm when they are teaching, and a class on and a break and then another class on can be most frustrating. Getting the below-level students can make any teacher want to beat their heads against the wall. Not every getting an honors class or an on-level course can be a cause for burning out.
The teachers that go back to school and renew their ideas and philosophy were able overcome the “burning out” blues. The teacher that does something constructive during their summer, like rewriting their course curriculum, would come back to school with a whole new approach. The teacher who embraced “new technology” to find new ways to teach overcomes burning out.
Teachers have to be like magicians and find ways to remake themselves. One of the best ways to do this is to teach a new course or new grade level every few years to force them to prepare for a major change. Change is important to not burning out. Too much change can be threatening at the same time for teachers, and they burn out from not being able to keep up with technology or keep up with change.
Flexibility can be an asset in preventing burnout. Coaching a sport after school can make all the difference in the world to a teacher who was starting to burn out from teaching. Putting in that extra time and getting to know the students on a more personal basis gives a teacher a big teaching advantage. To know the students personally and professionally in a class is a big advantage. The students look at the teacher as not just a teacher but also their coach.
Burnout occurs when teacher get truly tired of teaching and negative evaluations from administrators. Often, they go into industry after quitting and make a fortune in money compared to what they used to get teaching. One teacher quit after twelve years to become a real estate promoter and began to get backers to build custom homes. After ten years, he was making two hundred thousand a year in commissions. Other science teachers left for the business world to make a ton of money in the new computer industry. Some teachers became car salesmen and made three times the salary they had as a teacher.
Burning out isn’t always bad, if a teacher is prepared to change careers. Not everyone is willing to change careers, however. It is no accident that there is a major shortage of math and science teachers because their counterpart jobs in business and industry pay three times or more than regular teacher’s pay. Teacher’s pay is the same for all teachers. Physical education teachers make the same amount a science teacher or English teacher makes. No teacher gets special pay, because it is perceived that his or her subject is harder or requires a stronger academic background.
Burnout thins out the teacher ranks and reduces that amount of teachers that go on to eventually retire and take advantage of the excellent New York State teachers’ retirement system. Teacher burnout is one thing the High Mountain school district never really addressed. It was something that caused the loss of many a potentially good teacher. Administrators in each school building had total control over whom they pressured and whom they favored. Teacher burnout cost the district a lot of money in a constant teacher turnover factor. Constant turnover of teachers prevents uniformity and continuity in any course curriculum. Each time a new teacher is hired, they teach that subject differently than the previous teacher.
No superintendent conference ever addressed the teacher burnout problem in the forty years of the existence of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. It shows blindness on the part of the administration to recognize the problem and address it. Some people would call it denial. Regardless, teacher burnout was a major fear to every teacher after five or ten years of teaching. Some teachers who lasted thirty years probably had to reinvent themselves three or four times or more to avoid teacher burnout.
On average, about 25 percent of the teaching staff burned out every five, ten, or fifteen years. There are no real numbers to show this because teachers never resign and put down teacher burnout as their reason. When teachers leave the profession, they leave for a variety of reasons such as low pay, administrative pressure, poor student relationships, poor parent relationships, peer group pressure, lack of proper professional preparation, lack of mentoring, lack of administrative support, inability to make a difference with their students, family deaths or tragedy, and poor personal health. This list is not all-inclusive, but it can often be summarized into one category called teacher burnout.
Chapter 11 – Retirement
Retirement is not something teachers look forward to. It is the end of their career and the end of the social circles that surround this career. As shocking as this statement sounds, “few teachers ever retired happy.” In fact, a rough estimate is around 90 percent of the teachers that retired from Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL were forced out by administration because of:
1) Being too old
2) Being too ineffective in teaching
3) Not “playing the game” with the principal
4) A false accusation by a student that ended their career
5) Teachers tired of the “politics” of the school
The majority of the teachers who retired were forced out and, therefore, left Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL in an angry tone. When teachers retire, the teachers’ union has a district-wide party for the retiring teachers, with short speeches about how they were going to catch up on their fishing. When principals or assistant principals retire, one of their administrative buddies holds a retirement party for them and invites all the district administrators and building teachers.
These retirement parties are a haven for hypocrites. Teachers who hated the principal get up and give speeches on how great he/she was. What they really meant to say was they were glad to see him/her go. This was the case of Mr. Baldeen when he retired. His female assistant principal, who hated everything Mr. Baldeen stood for, made a long speech on how wonderful he was and how she enjoyed working for him. These were all lies to make Mr. Baldeen and everyone else feel good.
Sometimes, in a close-knit department, the other teachers would chip in and give a small pizza party or something to someone retiring in their department after many years at the same position.
Retirement was a way of pushing teachers out of a school. It was nearly impossible to fire them without cause, so subtle harassment forcing a teacher into retirement was a good strategy for administrators. This is why so many teachers retired in anger. They retired in anger toward the principal who did not support them and the greedy fellow teachers who wanted to teach his or her best classes. It was a dog-eat-dog world in the final analysis.
Early retirement was popular for a while to get rid of the high-paying senior teachers or master teachers that were the leaders of the school. The board of education felt they got paid too much for thirty or forty years of service. The early retirement incentive offered teachers turning fifty-five an opportunity to cash in on half their salary that year, in addition to their regular salary to retire at age fifty-five. If they wait until the next year at age fifty-six, they got nothing extra to retire with.
The thinking was that the board of education could hire two or three new teachers just out of college for the salary of one experience senior teacher. On paper, that looked good, but in reality, it never worked out that way. For one thing, the district got what they paid for new in raw recruits as teachers with no experience. Junior high is a real challenge to teach and not as easy as high school teaching. Second, without mentors or department chairman to help a new teacher, they floundered in teaching and usually quit after a few months. Instead of helping the new teachers, the administrators punished them for making mistakes.
There was no support structure in place. Teacher turnover increased, and instead of having dependable experienced teachers that were the cornerstones of the schools, they had inexperienced, unmotivated teachers. The “early retirement incentive” backfired, because the school board did not figure into the calculations the fact that they had to contribute to the retired teachers’ pension for the rest of the teachers’ lives. Many teachers would go on to live for thirty or forty more years of collecting the New York State teachers’ pensions, supported in part by the school districts that retired them.
Eventually, there would become a teacher shortage so bad that districts were stealing teachers from one school district to another school district. Superintendents were outraged when they found out a neighboring school district had hired a science teacher in the middle of the school year for an increase in pay. Some superintendents had to beg the other districts not to hire their teachers until the end of the year.
The mass retirement era of the 1990s caused a shortfall in teachers. The retirement incentive backfired. The quality in instruction dropped, as did the state test scores. The districts were not getting the job done with inexperienced teachers. The best of the crop was forced or lured into retirement and could not be easily replaced.
Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL eventually declined over losing its best-experienced teachers. All of the great programs that were started and survived for so many years fell by the wayside because the experienced and specially certified teachers were now gone. This was also true of coaches. There weren’t any more experienced coaches to run the sports programs. The district did not plan ahead in hiring to make sure they brought in teachers that could also coach a team. Everything was about saving money and starting salaries, and not about coaching, or clubs advisors, or technology-experienced teachers.
Retirement was the final taboo for teachers. They would be forced to work out of state in other schools or as a substitute teacher if desperate enough. Some found higher-paying jobs in the business sector. A few with doctoral degrees would go onto college or universities to fill the ranks of the adjunct professor that did not need medical benefits.
Despite the training sessions provided by the State Teachers Retirement Association, most teachers were totally unprepared for retirement. Many found out quickly that it is a major adjustment to go from working to doing nothing but projects around the house. Some went out of state and went back to teaching to be able to survive the high cost of living in New York State. Others went to Florida, where there is no state tax on pensions and there is warmer weather. But most of all, retiring at fifty-five was a major mistake for schools and teachers. Many teachers were at their prime at age fifty-five and would continue to be so until their midsixties. Retired teachers found themselves at home and their wives still working at their jobs, which brought about some depression for the retirees.
Chapter 12 – The Beginning of the End
Sadly, the demise of Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL came about slowly over its life of forty years. From 1960 to 1975, the school enrollment increased from 600 students to 1,600 by 1975. After that year, the enrollment began to drop to a steady 50–100 students a year. This was not only evident in Kakiat JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL but also across the entire Mountain High school district. The reasons were many:
- 1) Parents were having fewer children in this period of time than they were in previous generations.
- 2) The local Jewish schools, called yeshivas, were increasing at the same time the public schools population dropped under 10,000 students in 1990; the yeshivas were increasing and at 15,000 students at the time Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL ceased to exist.
- 3) Jewish parents of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox had lost faith in the public school districts over the past forty years of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL and other schools in the Mountain High school district.
- 4) Fights between Irish students and Jewish students that got into the local newspaper only made things worse.
- 5) As the rich Jewish parents in Northern Mountain High hired more and more Haitian domestic help, the Haitian student population grew in the 1960s from 1 percent to 70 percent by 1995.
The Haitian nannies, hired back in the 1960s by rich Mountain High residents, sent back to Haiti for their husbands, extended family, and children to come to Mountain High in New York State. The nannies started working for $2 an hour in the 1960s, which increased to $10 an hour by the 1990s, and they didn’t do windows either. The population of Haitians in Mountain High doubled and then tripled over thirty years. Eventually, the High Mountain school district became known as “little Haiti.” As the Haitian population moved into High Mountain, they were eventually able to buy homes with the help of welfare and social agencies.
As the Haitians moved into High Mountain Jewish neighborhoods, the Jewish population moved out to the next town, called Hidden River City. Over a period of forty years, the Jewish public school student population went from 70 percent to 15 percent in 1995. As the Jewish children grew up and went to college, their parents downsized and moved into condos in the next towns over from Mountain High.
Another reason for the demise of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL was the decrease in student population to the point where in 1995, the school had only 440 students, down from 1,600 in 1975.
Statewide and nationally, a new trend developed to convert the JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL concept to the new middle school concept, consisting of schools of grades 6–8 rather than 7–9. As this concept became fashionable, many high schools wanted to have the ninth-grade students in their buildings to round out their academic disciplines and their sports programs. More and more school districts in New York State were changing their JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOLs into middle schools with grades 6–8 or 7–8 by the late 1990s. The writing was on the wall for the middle school national movement, which would eventually replace JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOLs nationwide.
As the third principal retired after his heart attack, the fabulous programs he created and supported all died for one reason or another. The gymnastics exhibition program, which ran for twenty years, finally came to an end when the coach retired from coaching and went back to college to get a doctoral degree. This exhibition program generated more positive community goodwill than anything else at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, with the exception of the sports teams and the teen center. Students were dying to come to Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, where they could join the only gymnastics team in the entire Mountain High school district.
The “school within a school” program faded out by the late 1990s. Three teachers initially made the proposal for a $200,000 technology grant offered by the district in 1991. The heart of this grant program was allowing the seventh-grade teachers to run their own grade level and the eighth-grade teachers the same. Instead of hall duty or cafeteria duty, grade 7 and grade 8 teacher teams met every day to plan their curriculum, discuss student discipline, and keep track of their budget. By the late 1990s, the leaders of the seventh-grade- and eighth-grade-level programs retired.
The security guards were reduced by the board of education to only three people due to budget cuts. The “peer coaching” program, started by Principal Baldeen, lasted four years, until funds ran out despite the excellent reviews by the teachers involved in the program and the sixty hours of BOCES training required of teach teacher.
The “conflict resolution” program stopped because the teachers that used to train other teachers retired. Most of all, the spirit of the teaching staff had died out and could never be replaced after the board of education decided to offer a retirement incentive to the fifty-five-year-old teachers to save money in salaries.
The Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL teachers had aged; some had been at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL for thirty years plus. Many were retiring in the 1990s to take advantage of the early retirement incentive offered by the Mountain High school district. AP programs that were once offered stopped because there weren’t any certified teachers to teach them at Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL. The certified AP teachers had all retired by 2000.
The music program went downhill as the instrument lessons were cut out of the music curriculum due to a shortage of funds. The music teacher that had led the band for generations retired, and when he retired, the program went downhill.
Many key teachers in various departments, who were leaders among their peers, retired and were replaced by inexperienced teachers, who often quit after a few months or at the end of the first year. The teacher turnover rate was almost 40 percent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The districts were stealing teachers from one another by offering higher salaries for science and math teachers to transfer.
One of the biggest reasons for the demise of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL by the end of the 1990s was population decline and economics. The Mountain High School was half empty by the late 1990s. There wasn’t enough room at the high schools to move the ninth graders out of Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL, so the board of education decided to move all the seventh- and eighth-grade students to South and North Middle Schools and temporarily make Kakiata ninth-grade extension building to the high school.
The assistant principal, Mrs. Sue Blastermouth, took over with Mr. Baldeen’s retirement in 1999. She could not control the teachers or the increasing discipline programs. It takes a “whole faculty to run a school,” and it takes a lot of self-initiated leaders to keep things running smoothly. By 1999, Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL was dead, and a ninth-grade extension program to North High Mountain High School replaced it. Mrs. Blastermouth was responsible to report to the principal of the senior high school and did not retain the title of principal of the building.
The seventh- and eighth-grade students were all transferred to the two remaining middle schools in the north and the south. The Kakiat JUNIOR HIFH SCHOOL lost its name, identity, and sports program. It was but an extension to the North High Mountain High School, which was still overcrowded at the time.
The formal rules system cannot function unless the informal culture of teaching is healthy and functioning properly. Teachers were being hired because they were black or minority in order to combat the accusations of racism around the district. Unfortunately, hiring a teacher based on their skin color does not mean the teacher will be successful with black students or minority students. Many of these new teachers quit suddenly after only a few months of teaching. Gone were the mentors of the old days. The board of education had removed the pay scale for department chairpersons and allowed volunteer department coordinators instead.
Everyone was out for himself or herself, and no experienced teachers volunteered to mentor the new teachers. New teachers felt they were on their own. The negative attitude created by the replacement principal was undermining everything that went on in the past. Mrs. Blastermouth had her favorite teachers, to whom she gave the best schedules, and the rest she ignored. She cursed like a longshoreman, and that unprofessional attitude turned all the teachers off. They had no loyalty to her, and she could not command their loyalty.
“Tell Mr. Jones to fuck off, will you, Mrs. Leaner?” said Mrs. Blastermouth. “That son of a bitch had the nerve to report me to the teachers’ union for assigning him to lunch duty three years in a row!” Mrs. Blastermouth shouted out in her office. She could be heard down the entire school hallway.
“Shall I have Mr. Jones come to the office now, Mrs. Blastermouth?” said Mrs. Learner, the main office secretary.
“No, I will deal with the prick later,” said Mrs. Blastermouth.
Mrs. Blastermouth held grudges against teachers that would not do her will and was vindictive with end-of-the-year evaluations. She could not speak Creole or French, the language of the Haitian students, and she lost control of any communication with these students, who were the majority of the school population. Being a principal involved networking with the community and the board, and this female principal has no friends on the board. Her arrogant attitude from previous years, when she was an outspoken, cursing administrator, didn’t help her cause any.
After a decade of failed programs and declining enrollment in the 2000s, the ninth-grade extension building ceased. The ninth-grade students were all sent to the Mountain High Central High School building. The ninth-grade extension building was converted into an elementary school and renamed KakiatElementary School. Mrs. Blastermouth retired after completely running the school into the ground. Even “single sex classes” were being used because she could not control the students in coed situations.
On the wall in the Kakiat School gymnasium is a plaque dedicated to past social studies teacher Johnny Carucci, for his dedication and devotion to KAKIAT JUNIOR High SCHOOL. He died at age forty-four in the prime of his life, and never got to enjoy the years of retirement that he was always planning for. His legend personified the quality of teachers who gave their “all” for Kakiat JUNIOR High SCHOOL in the early years of the school’s existence.
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