A Tale of Three Heroes in Upper Darby

true herosim

Published in the Delaware County Daily Times

Delaware County’s Daily Newspaper                       Sunday, December 15, 2019

 By Joseph Batory, Times Columnist

 Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
Where’s the street wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero till the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh for the fight…

Bonnie Tyler’s blockbuster hit song (“Holding Out for a Hero”) was released in 2004 but it could easily have been my theme song way back in 1984 when I became the Superintendent of Schools for the Upper Darby School District.  At that time, I was “holding out for a hero.” And I needed one badly.

 I had begun my career in Upper Darby in 1975.  I was at the bottom of the administrator totem pole with little hope of advancement. But then, in 1980, as I was about to depart the school district for a private sector job, a heart attack abruptly ended the long career of Curwen Schlosser, Upper Darby’s superintendent of schools.

Dr. Schlosser was replaced by the school system’s business manager, Mike Maines, who put me in charge of the district’s personnel and communications as an assistant superintendent.  Mike listened to my ideas and gave me lots of rope to innovate. By 1984, I had completed my doctoral graduate study courses at the University of Pennsylvania, and I had become a capable and content assistant superintendent of schools. I could have lived happily ever after in this position. But lightning struck.  Mike decided to leave his superintendent’s position after a mild stroke.  And he was strongly recommending that I become Upper Darby’s new superintendent of schools.

Being Upper Darby’s superintendent was a job that I had never sought. And I wasn’t sure I even wanted to position. The Upper Darby School District challenges for the future included a lack of adequate financial resources because of a declining tax base and inadequate State funding of its share of public education costs.  On top of that, student enrollments were booming, new facilities were needed, and substantial demographic changes in the community population were occurring. None of this did wonders for my confidence. On the other hand, I was being offered a magnificent opportunity. It was too good to pass up.

As an incoming superintendent, I had the usual fears about School Board micromanaging.  I had seen many practicing superintendents in Delaware County pillaged and even destroyed by partisan or self-serving School Board bickering. But in Upper Darby, I met and grew to respect a myriad of School Board members who amazingly prioritized what was best for their schools and their communities.  Were there arguments and debates?  Sure!   But when it came to students, there was a remarkable sense of unified purpose that defined and guided almost all eventual decisions.  And innovation and creative educational endeavors abounded!

Over 15 years, there were so many School Board leaders whom I admired, but none stands out more heroically than Teresa Furey.  Her oratory and public eloquence were legendary. Teresa loved engaging people…the students of course, but also parents and taxpayers. And she used her formidable tools of pragmatism, intelligence, tact, vision, daring and compromise to lead both supporters and doubters across a hundred education bridges on behalf of Upper Darby kids.

My next hero came out of nowhere.  Christ Lutheran Pastor David Shaheen walked into my office one day for an unannounced appointment. I braced myself for the worst.  I asked Pastor David “What do you need?” And this smiling saintly man responded: “You have it all wrong, Mr. Superintendent. I’m here to find out what you need!”

And in the years ahead, Pastor David and his flock provided a host of ongoing support services for Upper Darby young people…after school care; tutoring; summer programs; clothing for needy students; hands-on school support; and on and on.  That heroism of Pastor David was, not talking the talk, but walking the walk of caring and involvement.

And finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the third hero who impacted my career. Upper Darby Music Supervisor Barbara Benglian and I go back more than 40 years in our professional relationship. Once upon a time, I had this vision that many thousands of Upper Darby students could be deeply involved in quality music programs, engaged in something meaningful that would drive their artistic and academic success. But I am just “a dreamer.”  It was Barbara Benglian who was “the doer” who surrounded herself with a stable of Super Bowl talent music teachers at all levels and built the superb music empire that exists today in Upper Darby.

Holding out for a hero in Upper Darby? That was once me. Late at night I tossed and turned and dreamed of what I needed.  And then, Teresa Furey…Pastor David…and Barbara Benglian rode in as my white Knights on fiery steeds…strong, fast and fresh for the fight. And I was no longer holding out for a hero!

______________________________________________________________

Joseph Batory was the award-winning superintendent of schools in Upper Darby from 1984 to 1999.  The school system won numerous recognitions and honors for its cutting-edge innovations and achievements during those years.

 

 

 

 

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