Here’s To You, Mr. Robinson

Posted: July 3, 2009 in Miscellaneous

Christmas, 1995, I was hired to finish out a school year teaching history at Paragould High School (still called Ridgecrest then). Not long afterward, word came out that the school was placed on academic probation by the state for poor academic performance. Despite the obvious correlation between poor academic performance and hiring me as a teacher, the actual consensus was that the administration’s award-winning approach to school discipline was to blame. While not using bells and having open classrooms won state awards, the results weren’t pretty. There needed to be a change in leadership.

Enter Mr. Robinson.

Fred Robinson had been an assistant principal and athletic director at the school across town, and he was brought in as a gunslinger – a straight-shooting, no-nonsense disciplinarian hired to restore order and place the school on a road to academic recovery. He entered shooting.

One of his first moves was to ask me to implement an In-School Suspension program. He gave me a large, old room separated from the main buildings and asked me to make life miserable for any student sent there for the day. Now I am a nice, laid-back sort of a guy, but you can ask anyone who came to I.S.S. that year, and I have the capacity to be a significant pain in the derriere. This proved to be excellent practice for a future career as a litigator.

And I remember Mr. Robinson’s introduction at our first teacher orientation session at the beginning of that school year. He asked us all to do our best to solve any problems we encountered in our rooms first, but if we couldn’t resolve it on our own we should send students to his office. He promised they would be taken care of there. Now this doesn’t sound like a dramatic speech, but given the state of affairs pre-Mr. Robinson this was huge. He received a rousing ovation.

I worked for Mr. Robinson for two years, splitting my time between teaching a few social studies classes and being a prison warden. Mr. Robinson never let me down. On occasion in I.S.S., things got serious enough that Mr. Robinson called the police to come escort certain particularly volatile students from my room. That may sound crazy, but it was during my two years there that the Westside school shootings occurred twenty miles down the road. We teachers were thankful for a principal like ours.

Well, life took some crazy twists and turns for me in the years that followed, landing me as a preacher five hundred miles away. At some point I heard the news that Mr. Robinson had run into some trouble of his own. Trouble with alcohol, and with driving under the influence. I haven’t spent much time in Paragould since, but the snippets I heard along the way were that he had multiple run-ins with drinking and driving, including an accident that hurt someone else rather badly. I read that he had moved away from Paragould and that he had to find a different line of work.

Mr. Robinson died yesterday in a fatal single-car accident. The police report said that he was the only passenger in his car and that he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. It doesn’t take anyone long to wonder if there was alcohol involved. Regardless, I am simply saddened today at the loss of someone I respected very much.

There are those that will characterize Mr. Robinson as a drunk. There are others that will feel pity for him, but still associate him primarily as someone who fell prey to the danger of alcohol. I choose to remember him differently from all that. I remember a tremendous principal who gave teachers control of their classrooms again, who created an environment where learning could occur, and someone who modeled to me the critical notion of leadership. That’s who I remember today.

Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson. May you rest in peace.

  1. J D says:

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend Al.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s