I recently had to say goodbye to an old friend. It wasn’t a person, but rather a building. Although just a building, its meaning is so much more. Tuesday morning I will be putting on a long sleeve shirt and tie and heading off to work. However, for the first time in five years I will not be heading towards Variety School. I will be heading to a different location.
Variety doesn’t seem like much. It is a dilapidated old building that has been serving special needs students for almost 55 years. It is constantly in need of repair with the foundation apparently crumbling wjith every step a person takes throughout. Nevertheless, to me, it has represented a lot more. When I moved to Las Vegas, I had no idea what might be in store for me.
At the time, I had no job although I did have an interview scheduled with the district. After the interview, I received a letter in the mail saying they were delighted to offer me a position in the district and that principals would be calling soon to schedule interviews with me. Although I did not know where I would be working, I was relieved to know that I would have a job in August. After working a few weeks for my friends landscaping business I knew that I didn’t want any more of that.
Several days later, the principal of Variety called and asked me to come meet with her to discuss one of several positions she had available. I was pretty stoked at the time because when she told me where it was, it was actually close to one of the few roads that I had heard of. I headed in for an interview not knowing what might be ahead of me. Pulling into the parking lot that hot July day I had know way of knowing that I would continue to be a guest in the parking lot for over 1000 more days over the next five years.
I don’t have a very good recollection of what the interview consisted of after that. I know that Variety was in the middle of summer school and my new principal took me around campus and showed me several rooms. In one room, she mentioned that the teacher would receive a prep buyout. Later, when she asked me which room I would be interested in I chose the money. Probably not the most auspicious start, but as an educator I was prepared to take all I could get. Since then she has told me that during the interview I wanted to prove that people from the country and city were all the same. I mentioned that we were all people and was confident that we could learn things from each other. She has since told me that she wasn’t completely convinced at the time, but decided to take a chance on me anyway. I'm lucky to have had that chance.
And what a chance it was. The past five years have been great for me. I’ve grown professionally as well as personally. I never anticipated being at Variety for five years. I assumed I would complete my two years that the district was requiring and then be on my way to teach Jr. High math or something. But something about the place stuck on me. The year I arrived at Variety there were six new teachers there. All of them left after that first year (including my wife). Still, a new year came and there I was.
The people at Variety matter the most. Sharing the success and failures with the students has been a great experience. Although it can be heartbreaking at times, it is definitely worth it for those of us who have been pegged to serve at Variety. Over the past five years, I’ve recommended the school to several of my friends. A couple have taken me up on the offer and others have stayed away. It certainly is not for everyone. But for those of us who have worked there and found ourselves wanting to leave but always having an excuse for staying, there is no way to describe it. Variety just becomes part of who you are. In fact, I’ve joked many times that I needed to leave because I was becoming known as “special school Greg”. Now is the time.
It’s with sadness and happiness as I begin my next journey. I don’t know whether I am off to bigger and better things, but I am off nonetheless. I’m not sure where this move will take me, but I do know that I’m taking away a lot more than what I drove into the parking lot with that day in July of 2001. You see, I moved to Las Vegas with only what could fit into my Ford Explorer but the memories and friendships I’m leaving Variety with could not fit into a fleet of trucks.
I know that Variety will continue as only it can. The staff there will continue to serve a population of students that few people are willing to take on. I hope each of them understands the significance and importance that each of them bring to the students at the school. For me it’s the difference that they have made in my life that makes my move so difficult. They do outstanding jobs, at one of the most difficult situations in the nation, and they do it willingly every day. For me, that’s priceless.
I hope that I gave Variety, and the people there, even a small percentage of what it gave me. It certainly deserves it.
At least that’s the view as I see it.