Let Down


     Last night, my father sent me an email with a link to read an article that was recently published in our local paper about my old High School.  It seems that the graduation rate at this school has dropped significantly and the New York City Department of Education gave the school an “F” on their yearly performance report card.  Schools deemed as failing run the risk of being closed down or reorganized.  In essence, what this means is that they relocate all of the current faculty to new schools and bring in a whole new staff and a new Principal.  This was a big surprise to me because I have nothing but wonderful memories about the experiences that I had there as well as the interactions that I had with the staff.

    The school was destined to go downhill when its old Principal, “Mr. L”, was dismissed under allegations that he was misappropriating school funds and paying teachers and other staff members for overtime that they were not doing.  Mr. L was Principal when I graduated from this school in the early 90s and I knew him to be respected by the entire student body as well as extremely caring and involved in the lives of all of his students.  I can recall him walking around the building and visiting classes on a daily basis.  He always knew everyone’s first and last name and made all of us kids feel like he really was interested in what was going on with each one of us. 

    I have to say that it is extremely difficult to witness the fall from grace of a role model that had such a positive impact on my youth and adolescence.  My husband and I inadvertently attended the same High School although we did not meet until years later and never even knew each other back then.  However, he also has extremely fond memories of our old school Principal.  He recalls that Mr. L always had an open door policy and he always made time to meet with students who needed to talk, either about issues that they were having in school or about issues that they were having in their personal lives.  My husband went on to say this meant a lot to him during a time when he was struggling with adolescence, living in a single-parent home, and lacking positive male role models in his life.

    It is disappointing to yet again see that people are not always whom they appear to be.  I’m not even sure if this is a fair statement for me to make because this one bad deed probably should not negate all of the other good and wonderful things that he did for the hundreds of young people that attended his school over many decades.  Unfortunately, it does kind of negate it in my mind because any money that you embezzle or steal from a school building directly affects its students.  This money could have been slated to create or improve extra-curricular activities or to provide richer learning opportunities and resources for all of us but it wasn’t.  This whole thing actually makes me angry.

    I can’t help but thinking about one year that we had a Winter Musical and Mr. L attended the show with his entire family.  During intermission, he stood up and introduced his son to the audience and shared how proud he was of the fact that he was doing so well in Dental School.  Did he use the money that he was funneling from the school budget to fund his children’s Ivy League educations?  Did he use that money to pay for the beautiful house that he had in the suburbs?  Was this money also used to purchase the expensive tailored suits that he wore daily?  It just makes no sense to me at all…

    While this money was being misappropriated, the inner city students who attended this school with me were making hard decisions about whether or not their families would be able to afford to send them to college after graduation.  The parents of these inner city students, like myself, were working two and three jobs to make ends meet and making financial sacrifices to pay senior dues, prom, and graduation fees.  I can recall the countless hours that I worked at McDonald’s, after school and on weekends, to help my parents pay for all of the expenses that are associated with High School graduation.  Many of my friends were in similar situations, working minimum wage jobs outside of school hours to ease some of the financial burdens that these fees placed on most of their parents.

    All this, while Mr. L was sticking his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.  The million dollar question is, did he ever really care about any of us or did he simply succumb to his own weakness and to human nature?  Maybe he started out being a genuinely good guy who just had too much temptation dumped in his lap by way of being in control of vast amounts of money.  Maybe he just smiled at us and treated us nicely because, at the end of the day, we were his meal tickets and he had to fool us and keep us happy.  If I prescribe to this latter theory, I will be chipping away at my diminishing faith in the goodness of mankind.  Please forgive me as I put on my rose colored glasses this one time because ignorance is truly bliss.  The teenage girl who looked up to this man has begged the woman who is writing this post to believe…

© 2010, Tough Cookie Mommy. All rights reserved.


  1. Ugh. There’s nothing worse than being let down by someone you thought to be a role model. I think the “he started out being a genuinely good guy who just had too much temptation dumped in his lap by way of being in control of vast amounts of money” is probably the most likely, but what do I know. You just have to take the good that came out of your relationship with him, and put aside the bad..knowing that he is going to be made accountable for it now.

    • Lynn, I have reflected on your advice and you made a great point. I have to separate the good contributions that he made in my life from this bad one. I can’t judge him but I definitely feel disappointed in him.

  2. Maria, it’s so sad when you are let down by those you look up to as role models. But I think you have to remember the good things about people, even when they fall from grace. He will be held accountable for his mistakes, and that’s really all we can ask for. Nobody’s perfect…

    • LEleana, once I got over my initial feelings of anger and disappointment, I realized that what he did would not change the positive impact that he had on me as an educator. Obviously, I don’t condone what he has been accused of doing, however, you are right, nobody is perfect.

  3. Definitely not fun when someone you respect completely lets you down. In those moments it really IS hard to see how you could have ever respected them, but you’re right — you can’t let the bad completely eclipse the good that they’ve done.

    Great post. Glad to have met you last night!

    • Alise, it was really hard initially to remember what it was that had made him respect him so much. After careful consideration, I could not deny that he had really advocated for us students and was always supportive. In the end, his one bad deed, could not negate all the good that he had done, in my eyes…


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  3. Maria says:

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  5. Amanda says:

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