Today is Memorial Day, a day when we remember and honor those who have died in service to our country. That should include the many educators who have been murdered while serving children in our public schools. Last week we added two more Texas teachers to that grim list.
In honor of Uvalde CISD teachers Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, along with the many other educators whose memories should be honored this Memorial Day, I offer something I wrote for Texas School Business magazine in 2011.
This column is dedicated to Vicki Kaspar. Remember her? Perhaps not. A lot has happened since Ms. Kaspar’s name appeared on the news crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. It was not her many years of service that got Vicki in the national news. She served Millard South High School in Omaha, Nebraska for 23 years, the last 13 as assistant principal. Vicki achieved national recognition on the day before her 59th birthday, but of course, there is nothing newsworthy about a longtime educator turning 59. Nor was it worthy of CNN’s attention that Ms. Kaspar was loved and respected by faculty, parents and kids. Vicki’s son was a teacher at the same school, which probably tells you something about how much she valued education. But none of that would get her known outside of a small community of people in Omaha.
What got Vicki on the news was the bullet that she took. She was killed by a student she had recently suspended. The kid apologized for his actions in advance, on Facebook, while at the same time, claiming that the “school drove me to this.”
It was big news for exactly three days, from January 5 to January 8. On the 8th, a man killed six people and severely wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Vicki’s 15 minutes of fame ended.
The President showed up in Tucson a few days later to honor those who died and those who acted heroically after the onslaught at the Safeway store. That’s as it should be. Unfortunately, school shootings are too common for us to expect that the President would show up every time an educator is gunned down. But here at this magazine, this “niche publication” aimed at educators, we did not want to let the moment pass without offering a few words of praise for your fallen colleague, Vicki Kaspar.
Of course I did not know her. But I studied her picture, and what I could read of her online and I felt like I have known her for years. I’ve known so many like her. You know the type—that longtime teacher you can count on for a laugh or two when things seem particularly crazy. Folks like that usually have a grandchild or two, with pictures on the cell phone they will show you at any opportunity. She could retire, you know, but she still likes working with the kids. And she will tell you that the kids really haven’t changed over the years—but their circumstances have, and their values have, and their families have. She will let you know that the support that educators used to be able to count on has eroded, and it’s too bad. But she carries on.
That’s who Vicki Kaspar was.
I’m not offering any solutions here. We already have laws about gun free zones around schools. We have counseling and special services available to troubled kids. We wonder how this could have happened and what we should do to make sure it never happens again, but none of the solutions will bring Assistant Principal Kaspar back to us.
So we’re not offering a solution or engaging in armchair psychiatry. We’re just mourning. Grieving. When something like this happens, people sometimes create spontaneous vigils where they hold candles and stand together in silence. People set up temporary shrines, with flowers and teddy bears. That’s all we’re doing with this column. We just did not want too much time to pass before we stopped and thought a moment about the death—and the life--of Vicki Kaspar. She will be remembered for her death. But it is her life that she gave to public education. Let us remember her as one of those every day heroes who make the world work.
DAWG BONE: MEMORIAL DAY IS ABOUT MORE THAN SOLDIERS.
Got a question or comment for the Dawg? Let me hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!