To be very clear, Mrs. Rodriguez does not want to retire. She loves her job. She loves this community. She loves this school and district. She loves her colleagues. Most of all, she loves her students. But as a two-time cancer survivor the global pandemic has brought a new cloud to many educators' decisions about retiring. Her decision to retire was emotional and painful.
Mrs. Rodriguez is perhaps the most resilient person I know. She went to chemotherapy every three weeks for years and did not miss a day of work. In fact, she would casually tell me, "Don't forget I'm going for my chemo drip tomorrow morning at 8, but I'll be in by 10. Call or text me if you have any emergencies. I can help from a distance." My reply would fall on deaf ears.
"Sandy, it's OK to not come in tomorrow. Go home if you're not feeling well."
"Well, David. I figure I can feel crummy at home or at school. At least if I'm here I can do my job and help others."
That's just who she is.
I think what Sandy was really trying to tell me is that she never wanted cancer to define who she is. Rather, she's used her love, positive attitude, compassion, efficiency, faith, and willingness to listen to inspire and support others.
How does a school secretary inspire and support others? That list is too long for this blog, but Sandy has an amazing ability to:
- know when a student needs a hug or redirection.
- listen to teachers when they just need someone to listen to them.
- sort out the "magical guest teacher puzzle" whenever we have a staff member who is sick or out for professional development.
- happily help parents and families find opportunities whenever problems arise.
- welcome all visitors with grace and class.
- filter, prioritize, and act on emergencies, accidents, and the unique issues that arise whenever more than 500 people work and learn in a school each day.
- understand when a principal needs a joke, a "to do" list, or a closed door conversation.
- celebrate even the smallest victory for any student.
My favorite time of the day with Mrs. Rodriguez is usually about 45 minutes after dismissal. (Her contract says she can leave 30 minutes after dismissal, but she never does.) The office is quiet, and she and I usually take a deep breath together as we reflect on the day. She never leaves unless her desk area is clean and organized, and no matter how crazy the day has been---and there are occasionally some crazy days---she finds a bright spot or a bit of hope to celebrate---each and every day. And she says something like, "Tomorrow is going to be even better."
Tomorrow will be better--even without her, and Mrs. Rodriguez would have it no other way. She's already committed to helping transition our soon-to-be-announced new secretary. Tomorrow will also be different. While there will be some bumps along the way, Novi Woods has an obligation to make each new and different day a little better. That's my commitment to honor our students---and Mrs. Rodriguez.
My wish for Mrs. Rodriguez is that she eventually finds peace in her decision to retire and for her to completely enjoy her many grandchildren and remarkable family. Twenty five years ago her eldest son was in my very first 5th grade class in Novi, and now he is a parent! Mrs. Rodriguez and I have known and worked together for a long, long time. She is a special colleague, an inspirational person, and an even better friend.
Thank you, Mrs. Rodriguez. I love you.
P.S--You can email Mrs. Rodriguez your well wishes at Sandra.Rodriguez@Novik12.org. I know she would love to hear from you.