I got very sad news last Sunday night, May 15. My friend, Stuart Schmelz, AP at IS 162 in the Bronx passed away Thursday.
I have known Stu for almost 16 years. I met him the very first day I started teaching. I took an instant liking to Stu. He told it like it was, and not only did he talk the talk, but more importantly he walked the walk.
Even then, way back in 1995, Stu knew how to fix the schools. Stu believed in personal responsibility. He was its strongest advocate. He would have made a great chancellor. Unfortunately, he never applied, nor did Mike Bloomberg know how to find and utilize talent when it was right under his nose.
He was a UFT chapter chair for several years. I will never forget the fight he put up for a first year teacher who was bullied by our nutty principal. The principal decided that she no longer cared for this teacher. The teacher probably didn't kiss up enough. Within the course of a month, starting the last week of April, the principal decided to give the first year teacher all three of her observations. This teacher received a U each and every time. Stu fought like hell for this teacher. Eventually, the grievance went to a Step II and the teacher won. If it was not for Stu, if it was not for him fighting the fight, this teacher would have given up.
Stu and I worked together for three years. We parted ways for two, and then both wound up working together for another three. Sharing an office with him I found out so much more about Stu. Stu was a great family man. Stu was always there for his wife and daughter. I'll never forget when he came to work one day with his daughter's cell phone. I asked him what he was doing with it. He told me that she had gone over the minutes one too many times and until she pays for it the phone was now his. I learned so much from this man how to be a good father.
My son was born the last day of school in 2001. Stu and I were alone in the office when I got the phone call that my wife's water had broken. I hung up the phone and looked at Stu with a "now what" look on my face. In his always calm, always rational way he said, "I guess you better go now." I told him, "I can't. I just ordered breakfast." With that half smile, and devilish look in his eye he agreed with me. Thing is, anytime we talked after that, whenever the topic of my son came up Stu always mentioned that day, with a smile, with pride.
We parted company, yet always stayed in touch. Stu was a great believer that the way to fix the problems in the schools was not more testing, not more curriculum that does not work, but to fix the family. To fix the root of the problems. In no uncertain ways, what Stu was saying was it is poverty that needs to be taken care of, the helplessness people have that must be addressed. But Stu put up a good front. Saying those words would put a dent in the tough armor he wore. Underneath that armor was a man, a true man that cared about his family, his friends, his students.
As an assistant principal, one thing is sure. The title never went to his head. He might have belonged to a different union but his heart, his soul was with the rank and file of the UFT. He was everyman, he was Sipowicz. Hell, he even dressed like Sipowicz.
As an AP he never looked to jam a teacher. He did not believe in "gotcha!" He took his title as AP seriously, he was there to work with a teacher, to guide a teacher, to be a leader. That was his value system
My favorite story about Stu, and one that I will always remember and share one day with my son is about the New jersey Devils. Back in 2002 his wife was working for Volvo. At the time, Volvo was sponsorship deal with the Devils. That morning at work Stu informed me that he has $24K of Devils tickets laying on his kitchen table. His wife, somehow was in charge of distributing the tickets to deals, customers, etc... We looked at each other and wondered what we can do with $24K. He kidded that it wasn't worth his marriage. But we had a better idea.
The Devils were home that night against the Canadiens. He said, there are eight seats for the game that night, come on up to his house, pick as many as I want. I said sure. I called a few friends, drove up to his house, picked up the tickets, and presto! There I was with my friends seating second row at the blue line right next to Montreal's bench. And who do I see making his way to the other seats a few rows back midway through the first period? Stu, with his daughter and her friend.
What did Stu die of? I am not really sure. The story is still sketchy. But I do know that he was going through a lot of work related stress. In my mind, with what I see, all this stress being out on to educators by the so called "reformers" somehow, someway have contributed to this undue stress. If there was a way to indict these people, I would be first on line to testify.
But what is worse, what really gets me, are the phony teachers out there now. These young turks who think nothing of it to think just about themselves, to have others plant ideas in their heads. These 20-somethings are about themselves. Marching in a rally that they don't believe in. Stu was not like that. He saw the big picture, he knew what needed to be done and he went against the grain. He was respected and loved by teachers, students, parents, friends, all school staff, all the people of the school community. I only wish I could fill his shoes some how.
Stu liked to call himself a rabblerouser. He saw shinola, but never stepped in it. But he did everything he could to rid the world of it.
I hope now that the Jets will win a Super Bowl. Just not in a year in which doing so will impede the Giants chances.
He was a great educator. Someone that students desperately needed, and now students will desperately miss.