Sunday, April 20, 2014

Missing My Big Brother. In Memorium: Rick Fancher, 1949 - 2014

Rick Summer 2013
Whenever I get around to posting this my brother will have lost his fight with cancer. I'm writing this now while I can still see with dry eyes.  I really wonder what this post would have looked like if I had waited until after his final days.

    He was 64 years old. About the same age as my mother when she died. My Dad, heck, he lived until he was 92! And he died in his sleep. That's an important fact because my brother was a Fancher. He looked like my Dad and had a similar build. My brother was one of those "great guys" like my Dad. Helping others is what they were both about.

   But cancer doesn't care. Cancer just jumps in kicks all of those nice-guy genes to the side and proceeds to kill everything in its wake.  Cancer doesn't care that my brother's wife had seen her sister die less than 2 years before with this cancer's cousin.  Cancer doesn't care that my brother's son had to take extensive time off of his work to help out. And it certainly doesn't care that two of his kids live in Florida with their families and one of his sisters lives in California and I live in Texas.

  Sometimes those left behind get a bit bitter about this whole cancer thing.  My brother owed me. He owed me the chance to beat him in golf. He owed me the chance to beat him at bowling. And, he owed me the chance to beat him at horseshoes.  My brother NEVER - I repeat, NEVER - let me beat him. He was an incredible athlete and 8 years older and I didn't stand a chance. Worse thing about all of my memories was that he was nice about beating me too. He never rubbed it in my face. He just won and moved on.

10 years from now, when I'm 66 and he should be 74, I was supposed to be whooping his butt on the golf course. "So, can't quite drive it like you used to," I'd say. I'd be whooping his butt at the bowling alley. "So, want to move down to the 10 pounders. You don't seem to be able to roll that 16 pounder any more," I'd say. And, "Hey maybe we should move these pins closer together. You can't quite throw those horseshoes the whole distance."  Man, I was ready to get to that point because I was NOT going to be a nice winner. 66 years of losing was going to be reversed in just a few years.

But NOooo, cancer had to jump in the game and take all my future fun away.  I don't get it. Seems to me that the real losers in all of this were those my brother touched in his short life.  Well you know what? 10 years from now I'm going to hit the golf course and every great shot I hit I'm going to turn to my brother, in spirit, and give him crap. And then I'm going bowling and every strike I roll I'll say "in your face." He'll know it was me.  And I'm going to play horseshoes - lots of horseshoes. And I will be the meanest one on the court.

So Rick, don't think you're going to get away that easily. I'm after your butt. And you know what? One day, I'm going to win!

Things That Piqued My Interest This Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

It All Starts At The Top

I spent 20 years in the Navy. 10 years of active duty followed by 10 years of reserve duty. My wife spent 23 years in the Navy, all active duty. I've also been able to work in 8 different schools in 7 different school districts. The one constant for all of these? Leadership is the key to the business environment (school culture) and the environment/culture is the key to good things happening.

Wherever I have worked I have witnessed school leadership that has created a culture of winners. I've received Battle E's for ships and commands I have been associated with and I have been with schools that are at the top of their districts. And, I've known friends on other ships and commands or teaching in other schools or districts who have not been so fortunate.

What do all of these leaders have in common? A vision of where they want to be and a willingness to allow those who work for them to be successful. A third, important, factor is having a leader who insists upon everyone pulling their weight and working collaboratively toward a common goal.

I am currently working at a school with a leader who is never satisfied with the status quo. He demands more from himself and encourages each of us to do more than we might be comfortable doing. Because of this our school is becoming one of the best.

I can remember, two years ago, telling my 10th graders that I was leaving Manor New Tech to go to Decker Middle School (DMS) as the instructional coach. And, these 10th graders were only two years removed from that middle school. Their reactions were summed up by one of them saying, "why are you going to that ghetto school?"  In fact, when these 10th graders were first at DMS it was a ghetto school.

But in their last year at DMS, the school got a real leader. This man is still with the district but is now an assistant superintendent. He created a culture that was strict but showed these students that there was a lot of love and caring by their teachers and principals. This principal knew that the academics would come once the kids started caring about their school and about each other.

And so, last school year, DMS got a new principal and he and I came to this "ghetto school" unsure of what kind of a school it would be.  This principal immediately embraced the strict and loving culture that was in place and he brought in the next phase of progress - improved academics. He is a man who works hard to know everything he can about the academics that are going on in his building.

And this year we are reaping the benefits of having a strict, loving culture with sound academic principles.  We are seeing gains (modest, but steady) in all areas of our standardized testing scores and we are seeing a faculty who is becoming increasingly more aware of the importance of a collaborative environment for, not only the students, but for the adults in the building.

This school is heading fair and the sails are filling. As the great naval captain, John Paul Jones once said," I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go into harms way." Bring on those standardized tests. We are under sail and under way.