Toes in the Water
Toes in the Water
In the spring of 1973 my Colgate housemate, Steve Jones, and I had been sending out resumes and looking for jobs --- we both had weddings coming up in late June and early July, respectively. We drove down to Pine Plains, New Jersey, at one point and I recall trying to sell ourselves as a package deal --- two energetic young educators ready to go. They weren’t having any of it, but we did stop in Canarsie, Brooklyn and get a great lunch with my grandmother on the way home. While I wanted --- indeed, needed --- a job, I was unwilling to cut my hair or shave my beard to get one. At least not yet. That’s when the Blind Brook ad popped up and I headed down to Westchester to meet David Schein.
The Ridge Street school was a classic 1950s low-slung building, although it did have two floors (the lower one built-into the “ridge’s” hillside). Unlike the red-brick models I was accustomed to, Ridge Street was a very attractive flagstone and glass design with a welcoming entryway. Upon arriving I first met Elmer (“Bud”) Moore, the District’s Curriculum Coordinator and one of the architects behind this “Arts and Humanities” High School idea. He was interested in my background and seemed to like that I was certified in English and Social Studies/History and had been an American Studies major at Yale. All interviews are a two-way street, of course, and I was trying to size up “Bud,” as well. While his ideas seemed interesting, I detected an aspect of a hustler/grifter in his demeanor --- he seemed to have a lot riding on this whole project and maybe was overselling it? Whatever.
David Schein was a totally different story. Dark-haired and tall with intelligent brown eyes that made direct contact, Dave had an almost-smile curled at the corner of his mouth as he clenched his Sherlock Holmes pipe between his teeth during the interview. He was familiar with Colgate’s M.A.T. internship program and seemed to like that I had worked in nearby Greenwich. Unlike the interview with Bud, this felt more like a conversation about education, tossing around ideas about how we might implement an interdisciplinary arts/humanities curriculum in a new school that would not have interior walls. The no-walls thing was news to me, of course, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t skip a beat in telling Dave some of my ideas about teaching and learning. It was a fun interview, and I knew I would like to work with this Principal --- but was clueless as to whether I’d get an offer or not.
I got back on the Hutch, headed South toward the Tappan Zee Bridge and back to Hamilton, planning my usual stop at the Roscoe Diner on the way. The interview had sparked a lot of ideas and this new school seemed like a perfect match for all the progressive education theory we had been working on at Colgate. I loved the idea of teaching interdisciplinary Humanities and didn’t at all mind working with 7th graders --- I had substituted in Middle School in the spring of 1972 and survived without scars. I just wanted to get out there and start teaching --- and this Blind Brook job seemed like an ideal match, from my perspective. I could only hope it was from theirs, too.
It wasn’t long after the interview that I got a call from Cora Lattanzio, David Schein’s administrative assistant, asking if I’d like a position teaching 7th grade Humanities at the new Blind Brook Junior High School. There was no hesitation, of course, and I vaguely remember kind of floating through the rest of the day, feeling relieved (I had a job!) and ecstatic (I had a good job!). I had spent enough time talking to Cora (before my interview with Dave) to know that she was exceptionally smart and perceptive --- and that she didn’t miss a thing. That was confirmed when she called again and asked if I was looking for a place to live (she knew I was getting married at the end of June). Of course I was. Cora informed me that a small “carriage house” on the property of the Ridge Street School was going to be available as of August --- would I be interested? The School Board would be the landlord and the house was about one mile from the new school. I told Cora to “hold” the place and I’d be down to look at it when she called to let me know my contract was ready to sign.
Probably a week after that Cora called back and Steve Jones answered the phone. She told him she was calling for me about signing the contract and Steve asked “Hey, are there any more jobs there?” Cora told him there was an English position (I believe it was teaching 10th grade) and they arranged an interview. Before you knew it, my housemate and best friend at Colgate was now my colleague, too. And I would be renting the carriage house (for a very reasonable sum) and living on the grounds of the District’s elementary school --- for the next eleven years!
“The Hager House”
The carriage house was attached to a stable and was built in the late 19th century. It had been part of the Lehman Estate and was a lath-and-stucco building with five small rooms, two pantries, and a cellar with a sump pump. Downstairs was a living room with windows on three sides (great sunlight!) on one side and a large kitchen (with two walk-in pantries) on the other. There were stairs down to the cellar off one pantry. Upstairs there was a bathroom (with a tub on “legs”), two small bedrooms (with equally small closets, abbreviated by the angled roofline within) and a “master” bedroom (no closet, built in the days of armoires). The attached (and dilapidated) stable had been built to accommodate the carriages and teams of horses the Lehmans employed prior to the automobile age. There was school “grounds” equipment stored inside and it was not my garage. In August 1973 my wife and I moved in with our dog (Maxwell) and cat (The Rodent) looking forward to our new life.
As I came to meet various members of the Blind Brook-Rye School District Staff (custodians, groundskeepers, bus drivers, office staff) I found everyone asked how I liked living in the “Hager House.” It took a while for me to discover that the former Head Custodian and Head Matron of the Ridge Street School --- the Hagers --- had lived in the house for the last 35 years! Eventually, when people asked where I lived, I simply said, “The Hager House.”
I had wanted to live in the community in which I taught --- I thought it would be a benefit. Few of my friends or colleagues agreed --- and as time went on, I could understand why. There were pro’s and con’s to the situation. On the positive side, I was a member of the community I worked in. I’d be a resident, a voting citizen choosing the school board members (my bosses) and would be part of the warp and woof of life in Rye Brook, as I saw it. Having grown up on Long Island, in suburban New York, I thought I already had some insight into what life might be like and would proceed accordingly. On the negative side, living right there put me under a microscope. Anyone --- parents, students, school board members --- could show up on my doorstep at any time (and sometimes did!). It also meant my colleagues would expect me to have insight into “what’s going on?” in the community (sometimes true, most times not). Either way, there I was and there I lived until leaving the district in 1984, with lots of stories about living in “the Hager House.”
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