One Extraordinary Degree

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(As we celebrate “Teacher Appreciation Week” I wanted to take a few moments to express my appreciation for a friend and colleague who is a few weeks from a well deserved retirement.)

In science we learn that at 211 degrees, water is hot, but that at 212 degrees it boils, producing steam. Steam that can power a locomotive. Steam that can set off a chain reaction.
We learn that one extra degree makes all the difference.
This lesson transcends science, having applications in all areas of life. One extra degree of effort. One extra degree of courage. One extra degree of perseverance. The extra degree that separates good, from great.
Every so often we cross paths with someone that epitomizes this truth. We are fortunate to work around and alongside someone that consistently gives that one extra degree in every area of their life, and by doing so, leaves an impact that is extraordinary.
For the past twenty-five years, Cindy Zeivel has left an extraordinary imprint on the students, staff members, and families that make up the Frank C. Whiteley School community. Possessing a rare combination of velvet over steel, Cindy has been the heart and soul of helping students and staff members to be extraordinary in their own right.
Along the windows in Cindy’s room are many plaques, diplomas and awards. There is her Golden Apple plaque, and the diploma for her Masters Degree in Teaching. There is a trophy marked “best teacher”; a plaque titled “Most Inspirational Teacher”, and a substantially-sized book labeled “Who’s Who Among American Teachers”.
No doubt she has rightfully earned these awards, and many more, but Cindy has never been one to rest on her laurels. She has never required notoriety to prove her extraordinary value to our school. Her credentials are the constant stream of students that come back to visit her, even several years after graduation, because she has left an indelible stamp on their lives. Because she has helped them experience the extraordinary. They are Cindy’s credentials.
There is a quote emblazoned above her whiteboard; a credo for how Cindy leads her students, her colleagues, and other members of the Whiteley community towards the extraordinary.

“You are stronger than you see, braver than you believe, and smarter than you think.”                    ~ Christopher Robin to Pooh

Through her example and her influence, Cindy empowers us to be stronger. She inspires us to be braver. She enables us to be smarter. She leads us to be extraordinary.
At first glance, Cindy is warmth and joy. This is her velvet side. She greets everyone with a welcoming smile. She hugs her students. In her eyes, everyone is special, and she lets them know it. She cooks with her students, ostensibly teaching math, science and life skills, but also through this breaking of bread, she builds community. She leaves notes in student’s lockers. She loves students, everyday. And these are students who are not in “her” classroom. She just wants them to know how special they are, and how much they are cared for. She serves sick families, tutors former students, and while her car is one of the last to leave each day, she spend her time at home reading journals, grading papers, and writing notes for her students late into each evening.
Beneath this genuinely kind exterior, Cindy has a steel resolve. She gives her extra degree in all she does, and expects the rest of us to do the same. She is committed to making our school extraordinary. Even as she approaches the finish line of an exceptional career, she spends herself completely towards this end. She serves on countless committees. She mentors students in our PBIS program. She volunteers for virtually every activity, from movie nights, to multi-cultural events. She helped lead our “Water for South Sudan” project. She serves on our foundation committee. She came in for several weeks over her summer, crouched on her aging knees, to paint inspirational quotes on the stairway risers. She helps run our annual school spelling bee. She facilitates the yearly national math competition. She was an integral member of a small group of teachers who worked to craft a new vision statement for our school.
Soon, this exceptional teacher, colleague, mentor, and friend, will conclude an amazing career. It is incumbent upon us to savor these moments, and capture the vision, passion, and drive that she embodies. To take a moment to reflect, and express our appreciation for colleagues like Cindy. She is passing the torch, leaving us to see how much stronger, braver and smarter we have been made by this extraordinary leader. Reminding us of perhaps her greatest lesson, that one extra degree makes all the difference.

 

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