Stepping down after 15 years at the helm of FISD Community Education, Carol Reeh (right) helps prepare Joanie Kramer to take over the program. Photo by Phil Houseal
The learning goes on and on and on...
by Phil Houseal
“I want your job.”
Back in the early 1990s, Carol Reeh said those words to me as she sat across the hall from my office at the Fredericksburg Independent School District. Actually, as she recently reminded me, her exact thought was: “I lusted after your job.”
My job was Director of Community Education.
Reeh had to wait for one decade and for two other directors to come and go. Finally, in 2001, she assumed the helm of Community Education, where she has juggled schedules, cajoled instructors, handled calls from frantic parents, printed thousands of T-shirts, and purchased hundreds of balls in order to keep the machine of lifelong learning humming.
This week as she steps down in retirement, she knows she had the right idea 25 years ago.
“I thought how wonderful it was,” she said of those early years monitoring my office door. “You had different people coming in and out, and you were going out in the community. Community education is a ‘win-win’ for everybody.”
Most families in Fredericksburg have experienced community education even if they don’t realize it. The cornerstone is an extensive summer program, where children can take camps in tennis, football, basketball, rocketry, art, dance and cheer, cooking, and an amazing variety of activities. During the school year, the focus is on adult classes. These include fun stuff such as dance and exercise, along with helpful courses of foreign language, computer training, bookkeeping, and on and on.
While locals take community education for granted, the number of schools offering the program has fallen, as schools tighten budgets and limit their focus to K-12. To one who spent 24 years involved in two districts and at both state and national levels, it is misdirected frugality, but that is another column. Kudos should go to FISD administrators and board members for recognizing the value and keeping Community Ed going since the 1970s. The world notices.
“People moving here from Florida, California, New York, and Houston are stunned that a small community has a program this extensive,” Reeh said. “To me, it’s still amazing.”
One of the secrets of community education is it serves as the face of the school district for many adults whose only other interaction with the school district comes when writing that check for property taxes. Community education offers them a different perspective, giving those taxpayers access to school facilities that might otherwise sit empty on evenings and weekends.
“People are looking for that personal touch,” Reeh said. Even though she is incredibly busy running the entire department by herself, she always makes time for her clients. “It’s about relationships. I really believe if someone comes into my office for 10 minutes, that’s what I am here for. Even if they have to sign up for Defensive Driving and want to vent that they never received a ticket in 30 years, that’s OK. Everybody has a story and deserves attention.”
As Reeh moves on, the program continues. Already undergoing on-the-job training is Joanie Kramer, who moved over to the department from her teaching position. It’s not really “training.” There is no training for community education. The ideal candidate is the person that wants to do it. Kramer fits that bill.
“I am very, very excited,” said Kramer, who “knew forever” that she wanted to be in education. “Actually I am beyond excited to start this new venture. It’s the best of all worlds.”
She started her education career at age 16, working at Bethany preschool. She taught for 26 years in elementary classrooms, the last 16 at FISD.
She plans to continue the existing classes, while looking to add programs that serve the needs of older adults. Kramer admits she is a little nervous about the shoes she has to fill. Reeh dismisses her concerns, saying, “I only wear flipflops.”
Reeh has other advice for the next director.
“I’ve told her, ‘don’t beat yourself up,’” she said. “You can make yourself crazy. You are only one person and can only accomplish so much.”
The workload doesn’t daunt the new director.
“I feel like I’ve won the lottery,” Kramer said. “I get to try something new! We offer something for everyone. Come meet people, have fun with it. Come see me! As I always said in my classrooms, ‘Let’s grow our brains!’”
Reeh gave her blessing.
“Just enjoy it. I believe it is the best job in the school district.”