Education Matters: Goodbye to two great men

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Today I'd like to give honorable mentions to two of my retiring colleagues, Hoover High School Principal Kevin Welsh and Supt. Michael Escalante.

I use the word "colleague" because I never thought of either as my boss. Both of these men were, first and foremost, educators, and there was never any question that their first priority was the kids. In that respect, we were equal players on the same team.

Escalante has taken his share of heat over the years, especially from the teachers union when negotiations are under way. His salary has been under scrutiny recently, all the more so in light of the budget constraints and austerity measures being imposed throughout the district. Whether or not our superintendant was overpaid is a matter of personal opinion and a matter for the Board of Education to address. I do, however, feel it only right to inject a little known fact about his compensation that might offer a more balanced picture.

The "golden handshake" that all retirees are being given this year to coax them into early retirement has been turned down by our superintendent. He is entitled to, but has declined to accept, approximately $140,000 from district coffers. That piece of information came to me from a reliable source and, after a little arm-twisting, was confirmed by Escalante. His decision was obviously based on the present economic situation of the district, but it is one that doesn't grab any headlines.

It's likely that Escalante would have preferred to keep this to himself, but I thought it was worth mentioning, given the negative and downright mean-spirited comments that have been made about him by my union's leaders.

If my fellow Glendale Teachers Assn. members want to see what a "tyrant" (a recent public jab by a union official) superintendant looks like, I would refer them to negotiations back in the 70s and a superintendant who truly had contempt for us teachers.

Escalante was a teacher's superintendent and he is, above all things, a good man. I am grateful for his service and leadership in our district and for nearly four decades of dedication to our profession.

Four decades is about how long I've known Kevin Welsh — as a fellow teacher, as a counselor, as an assistant principal and finally as a principal. He is, by any standard, unconventional in his personal and professional life. I mean that in a good way, for I have always admired people who defy convention and march to a different beat.

In fact, when it was first announced that Welsh was going to become an administrator, there were some reservations expressed that he could not be taken seriously enough; that he was too quirky, unpredictable, off-the-wall — all qualities that have endeared me to the man for all the years that I have known him.

But he is also a consummate professional, weathering crises, defusing tensions, calming fears and promoting healing. He is a master of public relations and a fountain of school spirit, even as that spirit has waned in recent years.

Welsh started as a teacher, and he has never strayed too far from that essential role. I've seen plenty of administrators in my time that had no touch with kids and, as we have a habit of doing in my profession, were elevated to administrative positions. But Kevin doesn't fit that description. He's a great teacher, and for that has my utmost respect.

His finest moment as an educator occurred about four years ago during our annual "drug awareness week." In front of the entire student body, he announced that he was an alcoholic. After telling the kids about the wreckage it caused in his life, he added proudly that he had been sober for 23 years.

That got him a sustained and well-deserved standing ovation from students, teachers and parents in attendance. We could all sense that this must have been difficult to admit for someone in his position, but we could also clearly see the pure motive behind this revelation.

Our unconventional principal had found a teachable moment and seized on it beautifully. There was a silence in the auditorium that we rarely hear when it is filled with teenagers.

Kids don't usually listen to adults when the subject is substance abuse. The ones who don't need any lecturing don't always appreciate it, and the ones who do need it turn a deaf ear to it. On this day and in this setting, everybody was listening. We teachers were never prouder of our principal, and the students heard some hard truth from someone who had already earned their respect.

At times I've disagreed with both these men, but on the occasion of their retirement and in light of their many years of service to education, I think it only right that we take the full measure of their careers. I salute them as educators and wish them well in their retirement.

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