Friday, May 18, 2001

School's out: Two views of year's end




By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dave Brumley's life in the classroom is just beginning, while Joy Sallee's is coming to a close.

        With one year under his belt, the Conner Middle School teacher has 27 more to catch up with the principal of Erpenbeck Elementary, who retires after 28 years in education.

        But the two Boone County educators, on opposite sides of their careers, have much in common.

        They both get that glow in their eyes when they talk about their jobs. They both know the joys and frustrations of working with children. They both come to work each day hoping to make a difference.

        They both will approach life in a new way next year.

        Today is the last day of school for students in Boone County, the first schools in Greater Cincinnati to start their summer vacations.

[photo] Dave Brumley shows Ben Stenger, a seventh-grader at Conner Middle School, how make a forearm pass in volleyball.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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        For many, this annual rite of passage means the start of the lazy days of summer until it's time to do it again next fall. But for some, it's the beginning or ending of a career.

        “It's been a blast. I can't believe it's already over,” Mr. Brumley, 25, said of his first year as a full-time physical education and vocational-studies teacher at Conner Middle in Hebron.

        “I love these kids. I leave here every day content and proud of what I did and ready to come back the next day and see what challenges are ahead. They'll probably say "you're naive, you're blind,' but I don't think so.”

        That passion for his students and his work is anything but naive, said Ms. Sallee, 60, principal of Erpenbeck in Florence.

        “I could not get up and come to work if I didn't feel I made a difference. What would be the point?” she said. “You have to believe and you have to know that everything you say and do can impact a child's life.”

        Ms. Sallee taught preschool through fifth grade before becoming a principal in 1989 at Collins Elementary in Florence. She stayed at Collins until 1997, when she became the first principal at Erpenbeck, one of Boone County's newest and largest elementary schools with nearly 850 students.

        While she raves about the joys of being a principal, Ms. Sallee points to her stint as a first-grade teacher as the most rewarding part of her years in education.

[photo] Joy Sallee, retiring principal of Erpenbeck Elementary in Florence, gets a hug from third-grader Scott Schalk.
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        “There's nothing like taking these little children, who come to you not knowing how to read, and seeing their eyes light up when they say, "I can read,' ” she said. “Talk about feeling like you've made a difference in the world.”

        Ms. Sallee knew she wanted to be a teacher before she even started school.

        A graduate of Simon Kenton High School, she was born in Eastern Kentucky where she tagged along with her cousins to a one-room school house where her uncle was the teacher.

        “I'd listen to my uncle talk about all the places and things in the world, and I was fascinated,” she said. “That's what I learned at my uncle's knee, the joy of learning new things. I was a starry-eyed little kid.”

        A strong proponent of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, Ms. Sallee is a vocal advocate for poor and disadvantaged children. She once helped lead a teachers' march on Frankfort in the late 1980s to fight for equity for children.

        Even after her retirement, Ms. Sallee plans to teach part-time. But she's going to devote most of her time to raising her 13-year-old grandson, Brandon Daniels.

        An alumnus of Boone County High School, Mr. Brumley grew up in Florence. After graduating from Northern Kentucky University in 1999, he began his first full-time teaching job at Conner last fall.

        “It's fun. It's hard work,” he said. “It's being around kids. It's choosing your battles. It's frustrating. But that's what keeps me going everyday.

        “I've got some sixth-graders that I can't quite get to do what I want them to. But I want to spend the next two years trying to reach those kids.”

        In his one year, Mr. Brumley says he's better prepared for next year, already doling out advice. Stay ahead of the paperwork, keep in contact with parents, be flexible.

        “I've learned that kids aren't always going to act like you want them to,” he said.

        Describing himself as part drill sergeant, part friend, Mr. Brumley said that when he reaches retirement, he hopes people will say he was fair, made a positive impact on his students and gave it his best.

        “I want to do all that I can for these kids and see them excel and make something of themselves,” he said.

        “I understand that there's not a lot of pay. You reap the rewards in other fashions. If I have a student who comes back and says "I accomplished something because of your encouragement,' then I've done my job.”

        That's all a teacher can ask for, Ms. Sallee said.

        As she leads her school for one final day, her eyes swell when she talks about her students and what they've learned.

        “I love my job so much that I really didn't want to leave,” she said. “I can't leave education, but I am going to look forward to not having to work the summers again.”

        But Ms. Sallee has some advice for Mr. Brumley and teachers like him.

        First, empower students. “I tell them, "you are responsible for your day.' ”

        Second, love them. “Care about your kids and what happens to them. That's more important than the subject you're teaching.”
       



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