It was a bone-chilling night outside the Arlington Memorial High School. Inside, the Arlington Memorial High School Chorus was presenting its 2012 Christmas concert to an overflow audience at the school’s Mack Performing Arts Center.
Off to one side and standing next to this writer, was the high school’s principal, Kerry Csizmesia. It was obvious, by looking at Mr. Csizmesia’s eyes, that an emotional event was being played out in front of him that evening. After 18 years, the evening’s performance was to be his last as the school’s presiding principal.
Earlier in the year, he had announced to the school board, in June 2013, he would step down as principal.
Principal Csizmesia, or Mr. C as he has been known by a generation of students, is a teacher’s teacher -- sometimes referred to as a master teacher.
The 61-year-old principal and graduate of Castleton College, who has his master’s from Cambridge College, did not begin his career in the early 1980s as a school administrator. Instead, it was as a coach and history teacher that had placed him in front of Arlington/Sunderland/Sandgate students soon after a seven-year tenure in Fair Haven schools.
In 1994, when he accepted the position to be the high school principal he was to confront enormous challenges -- in student behaviors, low student achievement, a deteriorating school plant and poor faculty morale. His achievements over the ensuing 18 years has proven that he was the right choice in reversing the negative environment.
Last June, the Bennington Banner reported on Mr. C’s planned retirement. The report noted the numerous national awards that AMHS had achieved under Mr. C’s leadership. Also noted were the physical, academic and technical enhancements that were incorporated into the school’s existing space -- namely the Mack Performing Arts Center, the Wes Carlson Studio for Dance & Theatre, the John Davies Technical Center as well as the computer and science labs -- Mr. C’s signature has a place on each one. Mr. C readily admits that this was not done solely by him, but in concert with his fellow colleagues -- board members, teachers, staff and volunteers.
However, in speaking with Mr. C it is quite apparent that what has been truly important to him is the individual student. Mr. C said, "getting each and every student to realize the importance of education in today’s world" was his everyday goal.
Second only to his passion for excellence by his students, Mr. C’s axiom was well known, "the teachers are in charge, not the students."
Not all were in agreement with his style of leadership, as one might expect over such a long span of time as principal. Some parents and school board members had their differences with him.
In many ways Mr. C based his actions on what President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that know not victory or defeat."
When the 2012/13 academic year comes to a close at AMHS, Kerry Csizmesia will drive back to his home, in Arlington. There he will begin another career, sharing it with his wife of 32 years, Joan, and their three children and three grandsons.
When asked what he will miss once he leaves his post, he mentioned without hesitation two areas -- "being in the classroom and observing the interaction of the teachers and students." And beyond that, which he will miss even more, will be his quest, "getting the players, all who are involved in education, to participate in meeting the goal -- educating our children."
In Arlington, a rare gem of an educator is about to step down. Time will only tell if the person who will follow Mr. C can continue the excellence he brought to his profession and to Arlington Memorial High School.
Goodbye, Mr. C, and enjoy your retirement. You have earned it and we are thankful for your years of dedicated service to so many of our children.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.