by Diana Cook
The start of school comes with a range of anticipation - not only for students but also for staff returning, who often get just as excited as the kids about school days to come. In preparation for when students arrive, the Phoenix Central School District kicks off the year with a “Welcome Back” early morning coffee and danish reception, followed by a gathering in the high school auditorium, a day or two before students return. There the superintendent and various principals welcome returning staff, introduce anyone who might be new, and spend a little time focused on sending faculty off to lead the halls of learning with some inspiration for the new year ahead.
Superintendent Judy Belfield took that opportunity to outline what will undoubtedly be a major undertaking for school districts all around New York and even across the country, focusing on state changes, ‘Race to the Top’ and the parameters surrounding them. These initiatives will, among other things, involve shifts in curriculum and testing focus, new teacher and principal evaluation requirements and the best efforts of everyone to work towards raising student achievement, requiring a new jump start in energy and activities for every member of the staff.
Then before turning over the podium to building leaders for their own welcome, she also left the group with a filmstrip of inspiration, which brought a sparkle to the hearts and eyes of some and left many with uplifting reason to hit the classroom fully-charged. It was the story of Team Hoyt - father Dick Hoyt, age 71 and son, Rick Hoyt, now age 49 - who have competed in numerous marathons, triathalons and were even inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008 for the example they set as real world heroes.
Rick has cerebral palsy, diagnosed at birth in 1962 when the doctors told his parents they should institutionalize their son, as he would be nothing more than a ‘vegetable’. Recognizing that their son’s eyes would follow them around the room, his parents declined that path, hoping that they would find a way to help Rick communicate and ultimately through a connection with Children’s Hospital in Boston, found a doctor who encouraged them to treat him like any other child. They spent many hours teaching their son the alphabet, posting words and signs around the house and at the age of 11, when Rick was fitted with a computer that enabled him to communicate, their hopes were realized when it became clear that he had learned quite a bit and was, in fact, quite capable of achieving academically. The communication device also enabled Rick to attend public school for the first time and, with the support of parents and teachers, he went on to graduate from Boston University in 1993, and work at Boston College in a computer lab helping to develop systems that aid the disabled with communication and other tasks.
But perhaps the most inspiring part of their story is the “Team Hoyt” evolution, which the filmstrip highlighted. It began in 1977 when Rick became inspired by an article on racing and expressed his desire to experience this type of activity. His father, Dick, was not a runner and at the time was in his ate 30s, but true to the family’s ongoing support philosphy resolved to offer what was possible. Dick Hoyt began by pushing Rick in the wheelchair - on a five mile run, after which his son told him “when I’m running it feels like I’m not handicapped”.
Thus began efforts to continue such opportunities for Rick. Dick began running/training everyday, while Rick was at school, with a bag of cement in the wheelchair. Over the ensuing years, as of February 2011, the Hoyts have competed in 1,042 endurance events including 68 marathons - running the Boston Marathon 27 times - and six Ironman Triathalons. The film showed how father Dick swims, pulling Rick in a boat with a rope attached, carrying him in a special seat in the front of a tandem bicycle, and pushing him in a special wheelchair for the run. The two, also, in 1992, ran across the United States, covering 3,735 miles in 45 days.
There was no missing the connection towards inspiring staff in their own efforts with kids ... what may seem impossible may just require the right attitude. “It will require a Can Do attitude,” said Belfield, again referring to what may seem like insurmountable educational challenges ahead in the classroom, “but I know we can.”
After principals Greg Molloy, Susan Anderson and Mary Stanton offered their own stories and introductions, and before dismissing staff to their preparations for the year before them, as they do each year, PCS made it a priority to recognize long term service to the district by the faculty and equally important support personnel who cover every corner of school operations.
Milestones in ‘Years of Service’ were recognized and pins presented to honor those who had met a certain threshold, accompanied by appreciation and applause.
15 years of service; Robert Bryant (social studies teacher JCB); Peter Callard (maintenance); Bill Carvel (maintenance); Chuck Chawgo (grade 7 math/ EJD); Debbie Dufour (Business/JCB); Cheryl Fassett (math/JCB); Debbie Gerace (bus driver); Rosamond Kline (teacher sssistant, MAM); Colleen Longley (social studies, JCB); Roseanne Miller (bus driver); Keitha Murphy (custodian); Sue Nelson (grade 1, MAM); Catherine Uttamsingh (grade 3, MAM); Heidi Waldron (teacher aide, EJD); Cynthia Waring (science, JCB); Judy Zarzecki (teacher assistant, MAM)
20 years of service: Bonnie Coleman (guidance secretary, EJD); Judy Corso (transportation); Tom Larkin (buildings and grounds);Terri Schneider (special education, MAM); Margo Storie (secretary, EJD)
25 years of service: Debbie Cianciolo (speech therapist, MAM); Pat Ellsworth (bus driver); Anne Gray (special education, MAM); Susan Longo (social studies, JCB); Sandy Morrell (bus monitor); Judy Turner (grade 3, MAM)
30 years of service: Darlene Von Zwehl (bus driver); Dana Yagan (science,JCB)
35 years of service; Marcia Zogg (food service)
Then as everyone got up from their seats prepared to face a new year in education, superintendent Judy Belfield added perspective on an even bigger picture.
Congratulations to our service award recipients for a combined 585 years of service.” she said. “Thank you for your dedication to our district and our students.”