Stories out of school: Eleanor Dushuttle was my first public
school friend. We met halfway through the 6th grade at Aborn
Elementary and Eleanor had my back both literally and figuratively since
the Aborn 6th grade teacher had stuck my desk directly in front of her
desk. My previous five and a half years had been spent in downtown
Lynn at St. Joseph's Elementary School. My 6th grade teacher was
Sister Salvatore...an equal opportunity ambidextrous slapper who could
nail a student with a speed that would make a boxing coach proud.
Sister once silenced the entire lunch room with a single slap delivered
to a girl who did not come back from the girls' lavatory fast enough.
The girl was my sister who was in the 3rd grade.
father listened to my stories both real or passed on from previous
victims but the story that really got his attention was about a
classmate and friend who had just returned to class after an absence
caused by a kidney infection. He had brought a note with him from
his doctor who asked Sister to let him use the boys' lavatory when ever
he needed it. Sister Salvatore resented this intrusion into her
domain and insisted that my friend wait until lunch time...my father
enrolled me in Aborn the next day. To this day I still regret that I
never had the guts to grab my friend's hand and take him to the lavatory
or at least to the Sister Superior's office.
More stories out of school: Eleanor filled me in on who
was who and what was needed to negotiate life in a public school.
If I got stuck with a question about a class project or forgot a
homework assignment, I could always give her a phone call. Since I
forgot a lot of homework that year, my father would give me "the
look" if the conversation went too long but thankfully never made me
hang up. I was a shy kid and to paraphrase a famous actor, my
father would have had to pry the phone from my "cold dead hands" before
I would hang up on the cutest girl in my class.
One last story: Jim Leonard to this day insists that his
7th grade teacher at St. Joseph's, Sister Constantia, was worse than my
6th grade teacher. Jim however resolved his own problem by
refusing to attend her classes much to the dismay of his mother.
Eventually an agreement was reached with the Sister Superior. Jim
would come to school and help with custodial chores and in return
receive a diploma when his class finished the 8th grade.
When that time arrived, Jim showed up at Eastern Jr. High.
As he walked around though, he did not see anyone he knew and was ready
to head out the door until he bumped into a good athlete he had played
some baseball with during the summer. The ball player talked Jim
into staying and they became and have been good friends ever since. The
ball player was Art Boland who went on to national and international
recognition for his contributions to sports medicine.
Jim went on to Salem Teachers College, taught for a while and
later became principal of Washington Elementary. He earned a
doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts and then became my
boss as Superintendent of Schools. At that time Lynn was facing
forced busing from the state but Jim was able to convince the state to
let him use magnet schools instead as a way to get parents to
voluntarily help meet desegregation goals.
I was the school department's Computer Center Manager at that
time and we got along okay. He told me what he wanted; I told him
what I could give him. We would argue until his eyes glazed over
and then I would go back and do the best I could. (He has told me
stories about politics in the school system that would have made my hair
stand on end if I had any. Maybe some day we will be able to get a
few of them on our website.)