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A Journey to Openness

A          Journey to Openness

I moved from the classroom to an elementary school principalship in 1992 in order to effect educational change at a broader level. My first principalship was at an elementary school in a wealthy community intent upon preserving its upper-echelon status. My school was located outside of Chicago's more diverse Cook County. Like most communities in the United States, this school district condones the firing of openly gay employees by virtue of having no discrimination policies based upon sexual orientation. Therefore, I began my first principalship in a district replete with resources and devoid of diversity.

During my first year as principal I was not out of the closet, nor had my partner and I yet adopted our daughter. I found myself in a position I loved, working with children, their families, and the teachers in the school. Concurrently, I instituted the processes involved in bringing diverse voices forward against the backdrop of conservatism found in this community. I encouraged discourse with all community members and activated an open-door policy to facilitate meaningful discussions. As a result, I found myself confronted by parents intent upon perpetuating their personal beliefs within a public domain. Some were convinced that our school should have a Christmas tree in the lobby, despite the presence of children from other religions at our public school. Other parents invited me to their church group lecture series, as a result of my call to hear all community voices. I attended one such lecture, which concluded with the announcement that next week's topic would address the "evils of prostitution and homosexuality." I worked diligently to quietly confront such bias while afraid to share the diversity my being gay would bring to the community. During the first year of my principalship I continued my silence, as so many gay/lesbian educators do for a variety of reasons - fear of rejection, threat of job loss, or child custody issues.

On August 29, 1994, at the start of my second year as principal, everything changed. On this day, the daughter that we were to adopt was born in Minnesota and my partner and I brought her home ten days later. Her coming into our lives initiated what was to become, for me, a very schizophrenic year. Although our school year had already begun, I took a day off to fly up to Minnesota for our daughter's birth. I arrived back to work confounded by the dilemma that I could not share my joy as a new father with anyone.

My past silence had put up walls that would be difficult to tear down. For the remainder of the school year, I longed to share stories with another teacher who had just had a baby.

As rich and rewarding as I found the responsibilities of my job, I knew that I was in a community that would not easily accept my newfound family. My discomfort with silence surfaced a desire to find a place where I could merge both the personal and professional. I knew that my daughter deserved parents who would be open and able to confront the prejudices that may exist in people. My partner was able to share our daughter's birth at his workplace, where they have sexual orientation included in their non-discrimination policies. As a result they held a baby shower for us at his office. His courage reaped the rewards of communal connectedness. Because my partner chose openness, there were no walls to be torn down upon our daughter's birth. I witnessed the joy and support his co-workers provided. In order to find such a community for myself, I would seek out and obtain two opportunities that transformed my life as a gay man. First, I interviewed for and was hired as the principal of a progressive laboratory school of a university located in Evanston, IL. Second, I applied for and was accepted into a Practitioner's Doctoral program at Teacher's College, Columbia University. Both of these opportunities created events and circumstances that allowed me, as a gay man, parent, and school leader, to enter into relationships with others honestly and openly.

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