By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — For the first time in 42 years, Mark Mooney had to do a thorough spring cleaning of his Middlebury Union High School office before heading out on summer vacation.
Among the items he stowed in boxes was his attendance book from 1965, the year in which he joined the school faculty. In it are the names of some the parents — and even grandparents — of the students now featured in the class of 2008, which will be his last at MUHS.
“There comes a point where you say you need to turn it over to the next generation and the next group,” said Mooney, who heads a list of several veteran teachers who are retiring from the Addison Central Supervisory Union’s faculty ranks this year.
In 1965, the district hired Mooney to fill a junior high school teaching vacancy. Mooney had just graduated from Castleton State College, and had been looking for a job in either Vermont or Connecticut, from where his wife Nancy hails.
He decided on Middlebury, mainly because of some acquaintances and family relationships in the area and Mooney’s brother had attended Middlebury College. The MUHS principal at the time, Ken Severson, happened to be the former high school principal at Pittsford, Mooney’s home town.
He began his teaching career in a building that had been built in 1958 for a cost of just over $1 million. The junior high and high school were consolidated in the single structure, the front façade of which was dominated by glass and windows. The ACSU offices at the time featured two employees and were located in what is now the Middlebury municipal building.
While social studies was his specialty, Mooney was also called upon to teach math, science and physical education during his first year. He recalled a grades 7-12 student body that approached 1,400 annually throughout the 1960s, during a time when Shoreham ran its own high school and Bridport ran its own junior high. That district’s secondary school-aged population has now dwindled to around 1,000, with all seven ACSU towns represented.
“There were a lot more kids,” Mooney said.
A lot more kids, fewer teachers and larger class sizes. Mooney dusted off his 1965 attendance book and saw that his math, science and social studies classes all had around 35 students. His physical education class, ironically, had the fewest students — 24.
“This was a typical load in junior high school,” Mooney said. He recalled study halls with between 130 and 200 students. There were no free periods. Classes lasted 40 minutes and there were six marking periods. Classes are now taught in 80-minute blocks and there are four marking periods.
“It was a different time and a different arrangement for sure, but it seemed doable,” Mooney said.
He recalled most students exhibiting good behavior and being hard workers. But he noted some teaching strategies that would never be accepted today. For example, he pointed to a “homogenous grouping” strategy that called for advanced, average and poor performing students to be placed in separate classes.
“You had A, B, C and D sections,” Mooney said. “If you were in the ‘D’ group, there was a pretty negative stigma.”
Mooney, after his first year, was able to shed his other subjects and focus exclusively on social studies. He made the transition to high school teacher in 1976.
He and other teachers went about their business without the computers, calculators, Internet and other newfangled technology of today. Back then, it was pretty much a chalkboard, 16-millimeter projector and speaker system.
He recalled one colleague, when asked to fill out his supply list for the coming school year, simply said, “just give me a box of chalk.”
Through the years, Mooney made his mark outside, as well as inside, the classroom. It was Mooney who established soccer at MUHS, an effort that took five years.
“There was a core of strong resistance to get it into the school,” Mooney recalled. “The big question was, what would it do to football?”
Hubie Wagner, football coach at the time, was among those who feared soccer would pull many athletes away from football. Mooney, during his lobbying effort, called other Vermont high schools that provided evidence the two sports could coexist. MUHS fielded its first soccer team in 1971, with Mooney serving as its first coach. He headed the program for around a decade.
Mooney has enjoyed the people and students he’s worked with throughout the years. He has instructed multiple generations of families, and can still put names with most of the faces that have paraded through his classroom.
“When I look at these kids’ names, they flash back in my memory,” Mooney said. “There was quite a mix.”
There were many good times and tumultuous times. Mooney recalled a very emotionally-charged campus during the Vietnam War. Faculty and students at times participated in protests. One MUHS teacher created a stir when she insisted on wearing a black armband in school in protest of the war. Another teacher left MUHS, changed his name and moved to Canada, fearing he might be drafted to fight in the unpopular conflict.
“There were a lot of mixed feelings about the war,” Mooney said.
Indeed, Mooney witnessed a lot of educational, societal and historical changes during his tenure at MUHS. But he’s now decided to gradually move into retirement. He will return next year to work in the MUHS computer lab, but is bidding farewell to full-time teaching in the school in which he — and four of his children — have earned their educational stripes.
He will hold dearest the memories of the many people he has worked with and the excitement of creating learning plans that touched a chord with students.
“I will probably miss most the feeling you get when you work as a group and something nice comes about,” Mooney said.
Also retiring from the ACSU this year after long careers are:
• From MUHS: Shirley Claudon (35 years), Millar Cox (26 years), Marjorie Drexler (23 years) and Peter Ryersbach (21 years).
• From Middlebury Union Middle School: Claude Spaulding (18.5 years) and Ann Demong (16 years).
• From Bridport Central School: Cynthia Hall (21 years).
• From Salisbury Community School: Richard Kimler (22 years) and Heidi Willis (18 years).
• From Mary Hogan Elementary School: Helen Kitchel (25 years) and John Leonard (29 years).
• Weybridge Elementary School: Artley Wolfson (18 years).