Got me thinking.

John Ratko, the principal that hired me for my first teaching job!

We are smack in the middle of planning our brand new middle school. One of the cool things I get to do is be the district liaison guy for all of our building projects. The fellow on the left above is John Ratko. He was the second principal at the original middle school, and is currently the most senior principal from that school still alive. He also is the guy that hired me in 1984 to be a US History teacher at the middle school. His heartfelt job offer still rings in my ears, “Well Nelson, I’m probably making a mistake, but I’m going to offer you the job.”

35 years later I’m still in the same district, now on my 4th different role, and John is long retired.

Last week I gave him a call and invited him to join us for the groundbreaking at the new middle school, being built on the same site. He accepted and we chatted a bit. One of his comments caught me off guard and got me thinking. He said, “You know, SLMS isn’t where my heart is. I’ll have FHS on my tombstone.” Then he talked about the fact that he was hired as a teacher at the high school, and eventually became the principal there, before finishing his last 12 years as the principal at the middle school.

I was surprised how he described the middle school vs. his time at the high school. Then, as I thought about it, I realized I was the same way. My first job was at the middle school. It’s where I met most of my longterm colleagues, who became personal friends. We experienced marriages, kids, births, deaths together. And John was the principal who hired most of us. That’s where my heart is. I loved my time at the other schools, especially our junior high school, where I was the planning principal, opened the building, and was its first principal for 12 years. But if push came to shove, I’d have to say my heart is still at my first school. Weird. Never thought of it until John made that comment.

Not sure why I decided to write about this brief interaction with one of my education heroes, but it was still banging around in my head, which is usually a sign for me that I should write about it. I’ll be forever grateful to John for hiring me in Fife. My roots here are now beyond deep. I love our district, and especially my first school.

Where does your heart live?

Author: Jeff Nelson

Jeff Nelson Fife School District Assistant Superintendent:Teaching-Learning-Innovation 36 years as an educator. 16 years teacher 3 years assistant principal 12 years principal 5 years Assistant Superintendent BA, Washington State University MAEd, Washington State University Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining. Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years. jnelson@fifeschools.com twitter.com/jeffnelsonTLI

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