I Got Schooled … and Other Stuff


Now Playing: Kick Drum Heart, by The Avett Brothers. “There’s nothing like finding gold within the rocks hard and cold. I’m so surprised to find more; Always surprised to find more.”

I’m not really sure why I’m often so hostile to my sons’ schools. I really liked school when I was growing up. I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to end, because we normally didn’t go anywhere and I got bored. I liked the vast majority of my teachers, even Mr. Johnson, the algebra teacher who scared a lot of kids over the years at Halifax County Senior High School. And even the ones I didn’t like, I got along with – with the possible exception of Mr. Robinson, the biology teacher for half a semester (and that’s a story for another day).

But I never much cared for principals I’ve known, especially assistant principals. Didn’t like ’em, didn’t respect ’em, didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to them except when I really had to.

My youngest son tells me his middle school got a new assistant principal who started a new policy – now all the administrators walk the halls with a bullhorn, nitpicking kids during class changes and the like. (And don’t even get me started on the stupid uniform policy there. I’ll just say conformity sucks and leave it at that.)

Anyway, Wednesday we got a letter addressed to the parents of my older son, Austin. I opened it to see a tome authored by Ms. Bimson, the school’s aptly named (insert joke here) dropout-prevention counselor. It informed me that, because of Austin’s lack of progress in three of his four courses, she was going to notify the Division of Motor Vehicles that he shouldn’t be granted a drivers license.

Well, this was news to me. And I expect, to every other person in the school. Austin not only is a really good student, he’d just received an award last week for superior performance last semester.

Blood-pressure rising, I rushed to phone to call Ms. Bimson, who unwittingly answered. I explained who I was and why I’d call, volume rising with every word. She offered to check on it – “I think you’d better,” I said – and came back to cheerfully tell me that there had been a mistake and to just throw the letter away.

“That’s not good enough,” I roared. “What about the DMV?”

“Oh, we haven’t sent the letter yet, we always give parents a chance to respond.” The letter gave us three whole days.

“What if for some reason the letter hadn’t been delivered?” I said. “This good kid would have been damaged for nothing.” Keep in mind that to this point, she’d never even said she was sorry.

“Oh, in that case, I would have called the DMV and told them to fix it.” She doesn’t know the DMV very well, does she? Can you imagine just calling the DMV and having anything straightened out? Really.

She finally offered a weak apology: “I know how you feel,” she added.

“No. You don’t. Obviously,” I countered. And I wasn’t finished.

I told her they should at least double-check things that would have such dire consequences and kept on preaching to her, my volume continuing to rise. Finally, I asked the big question: “Who’s your supervisor?”

It was Mrs. Burns, the principal, she said, and I was welcome to call.

I hung up and did. She wasn’t in, the office said, but I was welcome to leave a voice mail. So I did.

I should add here that I’d never met Mrs. Burns, but I’d often made fun of her on the automated messages that come nearly every Sunday telling us about upcoming events. She didn’t have the greatest delivery, as many folks don’t when they’re speaking from a script. I have to admit I thought she sounded kind of unintelligent.

This all happened about 1 p.m. I spent the rest of the afternoon alternately stewing and calming down. When it passed 5 o’clock, I got really resentful that Mrs. Burns had blown off my call. But truth to tell, I wasn’t surprised.

All of which means I did get surprised later that afternoon, about 5:55, when the phone rang. It was Mrs. Burns.

I didn’t even get a chance to get wound up. Because she already was. She apologized profusely to me and to Austin and I could hear the pain in her voice. “I can only imagine how you felt,” she said – not “I know how you felt,” but “I can only imagine.” That little bit made an impression.

She’d just gotten back to school to check her messages and she wanted to call immediately to let me know she was on it. She planned to investigate and do whatever she could to make sure it didn’t happen again.

I believe her. You can’t fake that stuff.

And believe me, I learned a message, too. I’m 53, and I thought I stopped judging people, particularly by the way they spoke, a long time ago. I don’t know if Mrs. Burns is the greatest principal, but I know one thing. She cares about the kids and the wrongs done them.

I appreciate that more than she’ll ever know.

Here’s the … and Other Stuff.

Facebook notified me today of two interesting birthdays.

One was of my old junior-high school friend, Jim. We met when junior high started and became friends. Though we’d drift apart in high school when we were in different circles, we were always friendly.  I’m pretty sure I had my first sleepover at Jim’s house. He had a drum set that he let me bang on, and it seems like he had some other cool stuff, too. (His dad was a doctor.) But most of all, I remember his mom fixing us Welsh rarebit for breakfast (she used 7-Up instead of beer to give it bubbles, by the way). It was the first and only time I had it. I can’t say I loved it, but I’ve always remembered it.

The other birthday was of my friend Stephanie Dujsik Benedict, whom I knew in Jacksonville. I met Steph through her now-husband, R.D., who worked at The Daily News with me. A finer couple I cannot cite. They were loads of fun, and I miss them terribly. I haven’t seen them in 17 years now, but R.D. and Steph, rest assured I still care about you guys. As does Karen.

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