Smile Politely

Between Referendums

I read with some sadness the obituary for Judy Hoffman last week. A music teacher in Champaign schools, Mrs. Hoffman was someone whom I recognized, even though I’d never been one of her students. She was one of the many familiar faces of the public education system that taught me so well during the 1980s and ’90s.

During the great debate last Autumn, and then again this Spring, regarding where to locate the new Central High School, and which schools should get what maintenance and when, much was made of how many sports fields there should be, the footprints of the buildings, the size of their lots, and how amenities such as air conditioning were a must.

Lost in the debate was what, in my humble opinion, really makes a school tick — it’s staff and administrators.

Granted, the purpose of the school referendum was about using tax dollars for brick and mortar projects, so it wouldn’t have made much sense for there to be an inclusion of the folks who work in the schools. Nonetheless, it is important, I think, not to let ourselves become too over-wrought by the structures of education, and not give credit where it is due to the people of the education system.

A product of the Unit 4 school system, whenever I look back on those K-12 years, it’s the folks who taught me, who were charged with my well-being five days a week, that I remember most. At Westview, there was Mrs. Breeze for Kindergarten, Mrs. Jones for first grade, Mrs. Sims for second and third grades, Mrs. Keller for fourth grade, and Mrs. Allen for fifth grade — and they were all intelligent, kind, stand-up individuals.

Jefferson Middle School saw its share of devoted educators: Mrs. Arzeni, Mrs. Sudman, Mr. Steinman, Mrs. Ott, Mrs. Dunlap, and others. Centennial High School was a rough patch for me, socially, but it was helped by the strength and faith put into me by instructors such as Mr. Rowe and Mr. Yanchus, and the unwavering fortitude of Nicole Storch, dean of students. And what student who had him could forget the late, great Mr. George Valentine?

At some point, no doubt a referendum will pass and brick and mortar changes will be made to existing and future schools. I suppose that will be for the best. In the meantime, it would be good not to lose sight of the folks who make our time within those walls — in need of improvement or otherwise — the important experience that it is.

Education isn’t just a fancy building, it’s the Judy Hoffmans, George Valentines and Mildred Sims of the world.

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