Science teacher Lee Dunnells was the ultimate educator
I was saddened when I recently learned of Lee Dunnells’ death last October. I taught science with Lee at Fort Plain High School. He was head of the science department when I arrived in September 1964, and for the next 22 years, Lee and I worked together.
For most of those years, I taught ninth-grade earth science, and Lee taught 10th grade biology. Lee was a role model and mentor to me. As a beginning teacher, I often observed his classes and watched him as he developed an outstanding learning environment for his students.
The ‘60s was an exciting time to be a high school science teacher. Schools were beefing-up their science curriculums, and the National Science Foundation was offering educational programs to help science teachers become more knowledgeable in their subject areas.
Lee and I participated in several of those programs, often riding together as one or the other of us drove to night classes at places like Union College. During those long road trips, we had an opportunity to discuss our teaching strategies and techniques. We both loved learning, and we both felt that what we were doing as science teachers was important.
Lee Dunnells had eyes that could communicate even before he spoke. But when he did speak, with his New England accent, he could make you feel that what you were hearing from him at any given moment was the most important words that you might ever hear. He could accomplish this when talking to a single person or to a roomful of students. Lee was born with this ability, and, along with his depth of knowledge, it was what set him apart as an outstanding teacher.
Generations of Fort Plain students passed through his classroom. Many of these students caught the learning bug from Lee and went on to pursue educations and careers in science. These students are now scattered across the country making their own contributions. But for many, it all began in the biology room with Lee Dunnells.
I read in his obituary that he donated his body to science. It did not surprise me that he would make this final contribution to the field that he loved so dearly. I also read that there would be no service in memory of his passing. This was Lee. He was satisfied that he had dedicated the better part of his life to teaching young people and sharing with them his love of learning.
I give a public farewell to this man whom I knew and respected and thank him for his contribution to science education.
The writer is a retired teacher and town of Greenfield historian.
Board of Regents grinds too slowly
Huge news came out of the recent state Board of Regents meeting. It did not have to do with the Common Core, teacher evaluation, student testing, state aid to public schools, New York State BAR examinations for teachers, cuts to the teaching force in all school districts or the budget gaps with which every school district is struggling right now.
Finally, the leaders of all public education matters in New York state are onto an important topic. They are debating whether to make cheerleading a sport in New York.
Before you back flip out on me, I am not denigrating cheerleading or the fabulous athletes and coaches who participate in it. As a former athletic director, coach and school administrator for many years, I was always a proponent of cheerleading and was one of the original supporters of recognizing cheerleading as a sport rather than as a school activity, the place it started in most schools.
Recognizing cheerleading as a sport involves much more than just taking it off the school activities list and moving it into the athletic department. Cheerleading advisers are now recognized as coaches. They need to be certified as coaches after taking courses approved by the state Education Department.
As do their fellow coaches of other sports, they have to be current on first aid, CPR and all of the other safety issues. Recognizing cheerleading as a sport is something with which I agree and have always championed. Then what is the issue, you might ask? As usual, the members of the Board of Regents and Department of Education are proving how out of touch they are with what is really happening in our schools. They have also demonstrated how deep the mountains of red tape and administration at State Ed make everything move at a snail’s pace.
The fact is that their consideration of this matter is way overdue and mostly moot in a majority of the school districts in New York state. I have personally taught the New York state coaching certification courses for more than 30 years. During that time, cheerleading coaches have regularly been among my students. Most of the high school athletic leagues in New York state have recognized cheerleading as a full-fledged sport for decades and have established guidelines and regulations for the conduct of the sport that are similar to all of the other sports in the athletic program.
As for the matter of timeliness, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association — which is responsible for all sports programs in state public schools — proposed that cheerleading be recognized as a sport in 2009! It has taken this matter five years to get to the floor of the Board of Regents? I hope that matters of academics move on and off the agenda a little more quickly.
Simply put, the cheerleading matter is a no brainer. It needs no discussion, and should have been passed by the Board of Regents the first time it was introduced in 2009. It makes sense. It provides a safer and better situation for the students who participate. And more than that, it is just the right thing to do. The Board of Regents needs to tackle the real problems of education and hopefully, they will hit some homeruns before the final buzzer sounds.
The writer is a retired teacher and administrator.