Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Chapter 1: Is it wrong that I'm smiling?

Events similar to some of those recounted below have happened to me, and in such cases, I have changed the names of the people involved to protect the innocent and the guilty. Many, if not most, of the events are purely fictional. All the characters are fictional; I have made them up out of the bits and pieces of people I have known and read about and heard about, as well as people I have imagined.

In the beginning, I had no hint that Brightwell Elementary School would be transformed by a small man who arrived a month after the start of the year to replace the acting principal.

But perhaps there was a harbinger of what was to come when Leo announced at his very first staff meeting that he was changing the school starting time to half an hour earlier. All the important teachers were transported into cries and gasps of delight. They'd been asking for this for years! And here was Leo, giving them exactly what they wanted before they even asked him for it.

He seemed exactly the right person to lead Brightwell School. He stood in the middle of the teachers lounge, basking in the admiration of everyone who mattered.

Tippi said, "But what about the buses? They won't let you change the buses! It would mess up the schedule."

Leo smirked. "They'll change. I've already talked to them."

"If you can do that..." Tippi said.

"Then I can walk on water?" asked Leo. His mouth spread into an enormous smile.

"Yes!" The verbal teachers nodded their heads.

Leo looked happy and proud, as if he'd benefited mankind or won an election.

But I was struck by a memory. Wasn't that "walking on water" phrase used by Tippi just a month earlier, during a staff meeting with the acting principal? Had the acting principal told Leo that he would be placed, by the teachers who mattered, in the same category as Jesus if he simply changed the school starting time to make certain teachers happy?

Now that I think of it, there was another intimation of trouble to come on Leo's first day as principal, but at the time, it seemed to be just a fluke, a coincidence.

Leo decided to come on strong with a misbehaving sixth-grade boy who was sent to the office during the morning hours. Apparently, he really went hard on the kid. I guess he wanted to make an impression as a tough guy. It seems that the kid also wanted to make an impression. That afternoon the fire alarm went off, and we all filed out to the field. But as time went by and we were still out on the field, the word went around that there had been a bomb threat and the fire department would have to search all the rooms before we could go back in.

It was impossible at that time to know if we had a really weird kid in the school, or a really weird new principal--or both. Only time would tell.

Leo does not deserve all the credit for the transformation of Brightwell School. He was more of a catalyst, an agent who swam about happily in the stew of personalities that was connected to him. He seemed skilled at triggering chemical reactions in the brains of those he spent time with. Leo simply threw things off balance a bit, and what happened next was pretty much beyond his control. Some of the most important players in his drama had more degrees of separation from him than they did from Kevin Bacon, but they couldn't have achieved their goals without him.

One person Leo probably never met was the pothead who lived on Mariposa Street. When he wasn't smoking, the man liked to stand out in front of his house and keep an eye on things. He didn't have a job, so that gave him a lot of time to do his watching. His reports, delivered by a mutual acquaintance, became very important to Leo and the trio of teacher leaders who guided him. One staff member referred to these influential women as "the three holies", but most of the staff saw the three as an unexceptional feature of a typical principal's office.

Leo was vaguely aware of Beryl, a small, blonde young woman who spent hours and hours every night making lesson plans. It was lucky that she had already decided to separate from her boyfriend, because she had absolutely no life at all outside her work, and no man would have put up with it. But Leo didn't notice that she worked late every night, and came in on weekends. She wasn't on his radar. He never visited her classroom.

At least, not until the California testing. There were two rounds of standardized tests in the early 90s: the third grade tests in March, and the all-grades testing in May. The third grade tests were important because they were used by the state to give each school a rating. And Leo wanted a good rating. He hadn't been able to improve his old school, and he was going to do things differently this time. He was going get his allies to understand how important it was to change things. He was going to get them focused on his goals. 011313

No comments: