I had two great principals to work for, as a classroom teacher, in my teaching career. The first was Terri Cunconan at Johnston Middle School in the 70’s and 80’s and my second was Gary Eyerly at Hiatt Middle School in the 90’s. Both principals shared the same educational virtues in totally different ways, Terri has been gone a while and Gary has just left us but the truth is with Gary’s passing I feel the loss of a generation of principals who understood teaching and teachers. A generation that depended on the human factor to get the job done that didn’t need to look in the manual to do what was right or give a test to determine if kids were learning. They were men who listened more than they talked, did more than they thought, and supported even when it hurt. In short men whose actions spoke louder than their words a rare commodity in education these days.
Gary Eyerly was my principal at Hiatt Middle School, what passes for a fairly tough middle school in Des Moines Iowa. Hiatt is a high poverty school , with lots of other problems piled on top. He hired experienced teachers because he knew the job and he wanted teachers who needed a challenge and wanted to work in an inner city school. He didn’t take the left over teachers we so often hear that are found in inner city schools and in doing so he assembled a staff that stayed and worked together often in difficult situations. I remember during my interview to be hired at Hiatt I said, “this is where I want to be.” and his almost immediate answer was , “ Your hired.” His leadership was quiet but firm, in short he was a principled principal . He believed in leadership, he believed in discipline, he believed in his teachers and the kids they worked with. He made teaching fun even when it was anything but fun. He always seemed to be there when you needed him and on the other side of the coin I believe his teachers were there for him when he needed them.
Oh he was human of that there is no doubt, He could be angry but it usually ended with a laugh. He made mistakes two memorable ones occurred when he casually threw a box of candy into the bleachers during an assembly trying to give it away but instead caused a 5 minute melee. Apparently because all those middle school kids were in a permanent state of starvation. And most memorably for me when shortly after hip replacement surgery he was kidding with a kid about who was fastest and then threw down his crutches and raced a kid down the hall , “ just because.” Later he said that little race set him back about a month in his recovery.
He always had something for his teachers on teacher appreciation day and yet he didn’t need to because we knew we were appreciated.
I guess the easiest way to say it is he understood that in education and life , “ You get what you give” He gave compassion, understanding, and strength to all of his teachers and students. (there may have been a few exceptions in the student area) I hope we gave it back
Rest in Peace Gary what you had is what we so dearly need in modern education and yet can no longer seem to find.