A bit of ancient history this morning.
Back in 1993 the Octorara School District was a mess.
The school board and the teacher’s union were locked in a battle of wills over wages, a fight that would last 18 months and include an extended teachers strike or two. The district was the subject of an hour-long PBS special detailing the challenges of public education and racial tensions, long simmering just below the surface, suddenly became front page news across the region and country when an inexperienced teacher held a mock slave auction in her grade school class during black history month. Some of the participants in that incident ended up being interviewed by Oprah* on her show a couple of weeks later.
Those who lived through those dark days will remember them well. What isn’t so well remembered is the group of men who, by shear force of will, successfully pulled the district out of its tailspin and positioned it on a safer, smoother flight path. Some of these community-minded men like current school board member Sam Ganow, Parkesburg’s current solicitor John Carnes, are still on the scene today. Others, like Jim Scanish, the board member representing what was then the south Parkesburg district, have since passed away.
By asking tough questions and demanding accountability from their fellow board members and district administrators, these three men gradually dismantled the conservative cabal that was driving the district into the ground.
Another school board member who helped turn the district around was John Addyman. Addyman represented Atglen on the board and was one of those people who went out of his way, or so it seemed, to impress all who cared with his knowledge. He would research the most mundane topic that came before the board and routinely came to board meetings with an endless stream of facts, questions and opinions, all in an effort to steer the board and, by extension, the district in the direction he wanted it to go.
John led the effort to replace the inept superintendent the previous Board had hired and demanded the district reinsert the $250,000 back into its annual budget to maintain the district’s three buildings, monies the previous administration and school board had removed in a cost cutting move.
I joined Mr. Addyman on the board in December of 1994 and immediately formed an unlikely alliance with John. John got things done by brute force and knowing more about everything than anybody else. My style, on the other hand, was more unassuming with more than a little dogged persistence mixed in. We made a good team and together worked on several initiatives including the Citizens Budget Committee, an effort to educate community members on the intricacies of funding and financing a public school district and the development of the Primary Learning Center, the district’s first new school in 40 years.
Its safe to say that without John’s passion, hard work and determination, the Primary Learning Center would not have been built.
John’s style and passion made him a lightning rod of sorts on the board and in his community and limited his time on the board. In 1996 John lost his reelection bid to Larry Lavenberg, a political newcomer at the time, and he gradually faded from the scene. He and his family moved to Connecticut and not much was heard of him since.
Until this morning that is. In a development that is so John Addyman, following a lifelong dream, John graduated this week with Honors from nursing school. Here is how John’s daughter, Amy Loblaw, told the story in a post on Facebook last night:
When my father was a boy, it was his dream to be a doctor. Due to numerous circumstances, when it came time for college, he was unable to pursue this dream. He went on to a career in education, business, and recruiting, among other things.
A few years ago, he retired. If you know my father, you knew retirement would never last. The dream of his youth, to care for others, still whispered to him. He made the decision, at an age where most men are enjoying days of golf or tinkering around the house, to go back to school to become a nurse.
Last night, after over a year of very intensive work, he graduated! With honors! Having won a NYS award! And, he was chosen by his classmates to speak at graduation! Like I would myself, my father minimizes this accomplishment, pointing out where he could have done better, worked harder, tried again.
I work with young people who have often reached a point where they are feeling defeated, have given up hope. I have often shared my father’s story to show these young folks that it is never too late, that one can always start again, that there can always be a do- over.
I hope you will all join me in congratulating my father on his amazing journey and impressive accomplishment!
Congratulations John from all your friends in Parkesburg and the Octorara Area School District!
Correction: According to Sam Ganow, “it was The Donahue Show, not Oprah,” who interviewed some of the parents and kids involved.