12:31 what a dubious time to sit at my throne to compose my rhyme…
I once wrote this line as a twenty-something kid who was in transition in his life. As I once again find myself at a stage of transition, I find myself inspired “because not on a schedule does inspiration come” as the above-reference poem that 22 year old Jeff wrote conveys.
I have never been good at good-byes (who is, really). But as I find myself gearing up for perhaps (no definitively) the biggest move of my life (made so because it I am also moving my family), I am flooded with thoughts of the place that has been home for the past 12 years. I have recently said almost romantically that I have “grown up” during my time at Pine Crest School. As I laid in bed tonight, I really thought about what that means, and was surprised a bit at what the reflection revealed. When I arrived here as a 30 year old high school English teacher, football and basketball coach, I was brash, wild, impulsive, simultaneously arrogant and insecure- in essence, I was an adolescent (my wife would certainly concur that this extended adolescence was both charming and annoying). I use to say that what made me immature as a kid, made me positively “youthful” as an adult. Perhaps that was true or a part of that aforementioned simultaneous condition. But I have grown up here over the past 12 years. Professionally no doubt as my career path exemplifies, but moreso, I have grown personally. If you know me now, you know that I am unabashedly proud of being a family man- my wife and children are the most important part of my life and there is no close second.
The other day, I wrote an email to Diane Borgmann and Mike Mersky. They are the Heads of School at Sycamore and St. Edwards respectively- the two schools where I was a finalist for their Middle School Headship last spring. I thanked them for being such an integral part of my growth. In hindsight- they are really on the low part of the catalytic totem pole of my professional growth.
The teachers at Pennington School modeled for me so many traits as educators that I still over 20 years later recall their examples in my every day life. Kate Hoff, my college prof who motivated me with the words “Jeff is very insightful and creative, and a strong writer-although not PhD caliber, I don’t think” as well as with her warmth, passion, guidance an enduring presence in my recollection. I still think I can get that PhD some day- and if I don’t , it won’t be because I can’t write.
When I was working for IES after college, I helped run a job fair in Nashville. Fun town for a single 24 year old guy. I digress. I was as hyper as ever in those days- but a little English teacher from Tampa gave me a shot to interview (thanks Isabel Griffin for facilitating that meeting). So started my relationship with Pat Lukacs- one that has perhaps been most influential in my becoming what my friend calls and “Iconic teacher” . I was raw energy and passion- Pat taught me professionalism and practice. Not a day goes by that I don’t let something fall off my lips that I learned from her. Joe Merluzzi was also a huge influence when I was at Berkeley Prep. I remember sitting on that stage in the fall of my first year teaching, when Joe confronted me about a parent who called complaining about the brash new English teacher, and Joe saying ‘Jeff, you do a great job, but you need to make sure you do a great job for every one of those kids” That was 16 years ago and I still remember like it was yesterday. As I transitioned into the next part of my life, there is no doubt the influence that Neil Gruber had on my life- he was a big-brother and father figure to me. He taught me so much about being a professional that like others, but perhaps moreseo, I feel his influence every day.
I moved to Hilton Head and was so fortunate to be able to lead in athletics and academics. I felt family there in a way that I have not felt in any community where I have lived to date. There is little else I can say, other than what a current colleague said when I returned to the island for the RET basketball tourney after I moved to Fort Lauderdale: Why would you ever leave here- they love you like their own. So true- and I still love them like my own. Amazing what bonds can be built in such a short time.
Then I moved to Pine Crest School, my home for the past almost 12 years. Wow-every time I think about my time here, I am quite frankly a little dumbfounded. I was cleaning out an old trunk- if you know me, it was the big blue summer camp trunk with all my old football playbooks in it. I came across planners, papers, syllabi etc from my first years at Berkeley. But at the bottom, I found 2 folders- they were mid-term exams from 2002- the names on those tests were as familiar as my current kids- and the memories of those times flooded me with emotion. I have been here a long time, taught and coached so many kids, have had so many wonderful relationships and yes, no doubt, I have grown up here.
It has been no accident. Yes, the passing of years has something to do with it, but the people who filled my life in that passing of years have had more to do with the evolution. Bob McGrath has been so influential, it is hard to articulate exactly all of his role- he let me grow, and was always gracious with his time to sit and talk with me about teaching kids. Dana, of whom I was admittedly critical of over the years because her talent was hidden from my eyes, has shown me the integral importance of developing and nurturing relationships with everyone in the community-she is a master. My friend Joey, well, nothing will change there- we will keep the bat phone open lines moving forward. But mostly, the kids and their families have been the catalyst. I have been lucky. I have taught great kids, worked with great parents and for all the unsilent minorities hemoroidal presence, it has been a great run. So yes, I have grown up here. Am I still brash? Sometimes. Am I still impulsive? Not as much so. Am I simultaneously arrogant and insecure? Certainly not.
I was essentially an adolescent when I got here- a stage I know very well, not accidentally that I am able to draw on personal experience so easily. But the people in my life have been supportive in my development.
At summer camp we always said that we didn’t say good-bye at the end of the summer, rather we said “so long for awhile”. I like that better. So as we pack the house and get ready for our new adventure in Atlanta, I say to my Pine Crest family, so long for a while- and thank you.