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C'est la Z

Career Directions - how a sad day changed mine

I was talking to a friend yesterday who had just started doing grad work in school leadership. It got me thinking about my original career plans and how you never know where you're going to end up.

Well, not my original original career plans. When I started on Wall Street I had no idea what the future would bring. For all I knew, I could have been a career professional programmer or even gone over to the business side.

When I started teaching, it was as a math teacher and back then, I thought that if I were to do it for my career, it would probably be in math with maybe a smattering of CS. I had reached out to DOE once about a greater role for CS but this was in the very early 90s and was summarily dismissed.

What changed?

It was September 1996. I had graduated my first class of CS students having taught 4 sections of APCS-AB and one of Comptuer Graphics - a course I created to get out of teaching Geometry. I had just started the Systems course and given the culture of the school and the trends of the times it looked like I'd be able to teach all CS for the foreseeable future if I so desired.

My friend and mentor Richie Rothenberg was the math chair. Richie, or Doc as we sometimes called him started to talk to me about succession plans. Richie was going to turn 50 that spring. In five years he'd both hit retirement and his kids would be done with college. The plan was to groom me as his replacement.

Sounded like a good idea. I enrolled in Hunter's school leadership certificate program and we were on our way.

Early that spring, Richie called me in to his office and told me that CS enrollment had skyrocketed. He was my boss but wanted to know if he could be the other CS teacher, shadow me and follow my lead as the CS guy. I was super psyched for this.

If things went to plan, Richie and I would have split CS for the next few years while I took on a larger administrative roll and then when Richie retired, I'd take the reigns.

If that happened I probably wouldn't have pushed for more CS and history or at least my history would have been very different.

What happened?

May 15 1997.

Richie, on his 50th birthday, driving home, suffered a heart attack, crashed his car and passed away.

It was devastating. For me and for the school. I wrote a bit about more about Richie here and here.

I didn't yet have my license and in any event wasn't ready. The principal chose Danny Jaye, another great friend and mentor for the position. I'm pretty sure that up until then Danny had no real desire to be department chair. He seemed happy ruling over his math reserach domain and working int he dean's office. Danny would adopt the moniker "doc" but we'd also refer to him as "The Maestro."

I would finish getting my supervisors certificate but would never use it and ended up forging what has been my path in the CS Ed space. Danny would not only take Stuy's math department to new places but also led revolutionary work in NY City and State in terms of math education and their math teams.

Had that tragedy not occurred on May 1997, for better or worse I probably never get involved in the greater CS Ed movement and only a select few at Stuy end up benefiting from Danny's work (and Danny, as a side note is an amazing teacher - back in the day, he got my brother Steve to both understand calculus and enjoy calc class).

Talking to JoAnn had me reminiscing about all of this.

I still miss Richie and tear up when I think about him but that is the past. That event was horrific for Richie, his family and friends but also changed a number of life trajectories. Funny how that works.

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