When I was an undergraduate student, there were very few education courses at the College of the Holy Cross. One of them was Principles of Guidance, a once-weekly seminar. As a sophomore, I didn’t think I had a chance to get into the course, but as it turned out, I was accepted. This was my first of many classes with Dean Joseph Maguire. Going forward, I had at least one class with him each of my remaining semesters in college.
Principles of Guidance met on Wednesday afternoons, a class limited to 15 students, as I recall. We discussed a number of topics critical to education, most notably though the emphasis was on relationships. I can credit this class as the first time I began to form my professional commitment to these critical connections in education.
Following Principles of Guidance, I was able to apply for and earn an internship teaching at a school in Worcester. As part of the internship, I met weekly with Dean Joe. We reviewed my plans, assignments, grading and of course, there was reading to do. I read Paolo Friere, John Dewey, and Jonathan Kozol, to name a few. And for the most part, to accommodate our schedules, we met on Wednesdays.
In 1997, Mitch Albom released his wonderful memoir about his experience going back to visit a former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz. Tuesdays with Morrie is a beautiful recounting of the trips that Albom made, after seeing Schwartz on television. Schwartz, who was in the latter stages of a struggle with ALS, continued to teach Albom, imparting wisdom, interspersed with humor and life lessons. Albom has acknowledged that this return to Schwartz changed his life.
I did not have the benefit of perspective as I went through my four years at Holy Cross. While I was keenly aware of the influence Dean Joe was having on my academics, I could not yet fully see the impact he would make on my life. To this day, unless legally required, I use a purple pen. Dean Joe too always used purple. When I asked him about this, his reason was simple: No one ever wants to see their work covered in red. How true.
My professional emphasis in 22 years as an educator has been about relationships and that is the greatest tribute I can give to Joe Maguire. From Chicago to Boston to New York to Vermont, whether as a teacher or an educational leader, I have prioritized the relationships with students, faculty, staff, families, and communities. As superintendent, I tell students my job is to make sure they feel safe and included so they can come to school and learn to their potential. I also tell adults, it’s my job to make sure they can be their best selves for their students.
I got here, thanks in large part, to my Wednesdays with Joe.
Dr. Brian Ricca is the superintendent of St. Johnsbury School.