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06/12/00

Devotion to students a
 hallmark of Chazy School
 superintendentís career

By SUZANNE MOORE
Staff Writer

CHAZY ó A pie in the face is no insult to Gerald Blair.

After all, he asks for it.

It was March Madness at Chazy Central Rural School, a zany event featuring soccer with all-new rules and a tug-o-war over the muddiest puddle on the grounds.

And to finish off the biathlon, students aimed cream pies at teachers or at Blair ó no less a personage than the school superintendent himself.

"I want you to have fun," heíd told the kids that day.

"But I want to have something back. I want excellence. I want you to bear down."

Bear down they did ó throwing pies with great abandon and sometimes terrific accuracy.

"It was an absolute ball," Blair laughed.

And if that treat wasnít enough to encourage devoted study, he had other methods up his sleeve.

A group of junior-high students stays at school until 7 p.m., working to boost their grades. Blair sits in with them.

And though summer isnít far off, the superintendent keeps after the kids who earned deficiencies.

"Iím still writing, still calling (the parents)," he said. "Thereís still time."

He tells the kids, "Youíve got to plug on to pass that final."

School will remain open until 9 or 10 p.m. so students can study for those exams, he said.

Blair will be there then, too.

Thereís more than paperwork to the job of superintendent, he says.

"My style is to go and have cookies in the kindergarten and josh around with the seniors. I want them to understand that I really care about them."

Blair was superintendent at Lake Placid Central School for 17 years, where he invented March Madness and where he shunned his very isolated office in favor of headquarters right in the thick of things.

"I established myself in a little niche" near a special-ed room, he said. "All the children going into the class had to pass by me.

"People called that unorthodox. I called it one more individual in a school showing concern for the students."

Blair, 58, came to Chazy in December just to fill in for a while. Next, heíd planned to find a school somewhere having serious difficulties and jump in as trouble shooter.

But, impressed with the long tradition of excellence at CCRS, heís agreed to stay on for three years.

"My kids think Iím a traitor," he laughed, referring to a long-standing soccer rivalry between his three sonsí alma mater, Lake Placid, and CCRS.

And his wife, Mary, "thinks Iím nuts."

In fact, the man retired at the end of 1997.

In truth, he never stopped working.

He was interim superintendent at Schroon Lake Central School for nine months, then spent the same length of time at Catskill Central.

During his tenure there, taxpayers passed a $27 million construction bond that had failed time and time again.

"The guy was a dynamo," said Gene Beirne, principal of Catskill High School.

"Anyone who would listen to him, heíd do a presentation. He set up a phone tree ó everyone was asked to call 10 people.

"That bond issue passed with a 6-1 ratio ó he carried it on his shoulders. Thatís what he did."

Blair always aims high.

"I think Chazy can be a Blue Ribbon School," he said, referring to an elite designation held by just a few schools in New York state.

Two weeks ago, his son Michael graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

The school superintendent tapped the cover of a scrapbook, lovingly crafted by Mary in honor of their sonís achievement.

"His dream was to fly jets," Blair said. "Heís three-quarters of the way there."

Whatever dream his students have, whether to be a plumber or president, he tells them, "Iím behind you. Go for it."

Education is "the foot in the door," he said. "We have to tell kids we expect them to pass ó in a fun, loving and firm way.

"Firm is where the bear comes in," he said, his voice taking on a bit of a growl. "You will bring in your homework; you will get it done."

Blairís father, Gerald Sr., who had to quit school after eighth grade to help support his family, wanted more for his own children.

"There was no question," the superintendent said, "My father just said, ĎYou will go to school.í"

That message was improved upon by Blairís eighth-grade social-studies teacher, who fired his enthusiasm to teach, too.

He still sees Jean Blackmore in his mindís eye, a short, dynamo of a woman who just "bubbled over" with enthusiasm.

"She really cared for every one of us," Blair said.

He treasures two of his own high-school memories above all others: scoring the winning basket in the last seconds of a basketball game and scoring 100 percent on the New York history Regents.

"Those are the kinds of things I want kids to experience," he said.

At CCRS, the whole school family will help that along.

Blair has recruited custodians to help grill burgers and hot dogs for the kids once a month or so. Next year, heíll match staff ó "cooks, bus drivers, everybody" ó with a few students each month.

"Theyíll say hello to them, ask how schoolís going."

Acquainting kids with more adults gives them more opportunity to find their own "Mrs. Blackmore," he said.

"Most people think their school is doing a pretty good job," Blair said, thumbing the draft copy of a new school handbook.

"I honestly know we can do a lot better job.

"My whole day, I concentrate on that. I never lose focus of that."

Suzanne Moore can be reached by e-mail:
smoore@pressrepublican.com  

 

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