Graves: An educator working on students' behalf

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A few weeks ago, a letter arrived on my desk. It was from Tom Dice and the Mitchell Rotary Club. In the letter, Mr. Dice, as he does every year, informed me of all the educators in our school who had been nominated for the Carl Sprunger Outstanding Educator recognition, awarded every spring. This year’s list was particularly strong.

Many educational awards are meaningful and should be highly prized (though my profession has admittedly suffered from the ‘participation trophy’ effect that now pervades our culture) but the Sprunger Award is particularly moving, particularly genuine. It is because there is only one way an educator can be eligible for it: student nomination.

What this means is the only way you can be eligible for the Sprunger is to have a student, in the incredibly frenetic spring of the senior year, sit down and draft a nomination for you, completely unrequested. Yeah, that’s right, you had to berate your kid to get him to write a thank you to his grandmother for the graduation gift she bought him but he somehow thought so much of this teacher or para-educator that he wrote up a nomination for them and submitted it to the right people.

Which tells me that the person she nominated made a huge, positive impact on their education and life.

Educators live for that. They went into education to make a difference and a Sprunger nomination — to say nothing of actually winning the award — is one of those rare moments that slaps you in the face with the fact that you did so.


I am pleased to say that we have scores and scores of people who positively impact our students in significant ways. Today, let me tell you about one of them.

But first, of course, I must digress.

Since I became superintendent of the Mitchell Schools, I have had offices in several different locations. The first was in the old post office building, now a real estate office. I’d tell you about some of the others but even I would find that boring. Two years ago, I had an office right at the west entrance of the middle school. But the then principal wanted to make the technology person, housed in the upper floor of the middle school library, more accessible and so he asked me to trade places with him. I agreed. (I was just glad he didn’t ask me to leave the building altogether as I hate it when my office is not in an actual school building.)

So I packed up my computer, files, and pictures of grandchildren and climbed the steps to the mezzanine. It’s a bit open, not allowing for private conversations, and requires me to take the stairs more times in a day than I would typically take in a week, but it is also in a library. In fact, it is above a library. And I am a bibliophile. Every day, I can just turn my head slightly and see the stacks of thousands of books and so many students as they cruise those stacks, excited to find something good to read.

Other than the occasional library ‘gargoyle’ comparison, it has, in fact, been a delightful relocation. It has been for all the reasons I just touched upon but also for one other. That other is Keith Christensen, ‘C-Dawg’ to the students of MMS. Each day, I get to hear him interact with his students, pointing out books he suspects they would find of interest — like a human Amazon-marketing engine. And I am fortunate enough to watch him work with the cadre of students who are his library assistants, young men and women who have found a real niche in the library. Keith is a fully certified librarian who retired from that profession a number of years ago but loved the students and the tomes so much he came back to school to be a paraeducator in the library.

Now Mr. Christensen and I are quite different people. When he speaks to students, or pretty much anybody for that matter, he does so about 40 decibels louder than I would like. He moves about the library in leaps and bounds, like a hunted gazelle, dashing first one way and then the other, when I appreciate a more deliberate, unaffected gait. When he discusses things with others, he employs neither diplomacy nor nuance. He is a conversational Lord Nelson — he goes ‘straight at ‘em.’ I’m hardly subtle but he makes me look tactful to the point of mumbling incoherence.

In spite of all this, and perhaps in part because of it, the students completely buy in to him. They listen to his presentations, they take his recommendations seriously, and they respect his work.

They do so mainly or entirely because they know he is working on their behalf. They view him, correctly, as someone trying to give them a book and a boost at a time of life when such things are so needed and, too often, so rare.


He, too, is rare. Genuine, student-oriented, enthusiastic, gregarious, engaging, and fun.

Well done, C-Dawg.

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