Dr. Koskela: Farewell but not Goodbye

“Dim the houselights and bring up the curtain.” June 30, 2016, Dr. Laura Koskela, assistant superintendent in Laurens 56, will officially retire from public education after a career spanning 39 years. Thirty-nine years!!! Of those years, she spent the last 20 in our district. That kind of loyalty is rare this day and time but not for Dr. Koskela. When she came to Clinton from Greenville County Schools, there was most assuredly an adjustment but one she found comfortable and homey. Dr. Koskela is not the kind of person who works in one place and lives in another…she established roots right here in our community. She bought from our businesses, supported our efforts financially and personally. Dr. Koskela and I crossed paths many times over the years. First time I met her was when I was a senior in high school. Clinton High School Thespian Troupe 1071 competed for the state championship at Winthrop University in 1976 (which we won, I might add). I served as both stage hand and actor for our troupe and she was the Winthrop University stage manager for all productions. She left a lasting impression on a high school boy. She was courteous, kind, knowledgeable, and ultimately professional. Our paths crossed again in 1996 when she and I vied for the same job…assistant superintendent in Laurens 56. She was a director in Greenville County Schools and I was an assistant principal. She fairly and rightly earned the job yet immediately set out helping me earn the experience to further my goals in administration. Again, she was thoroughly kind, supportive, considerate, and professional. Laurens 56 has been the recipient of Laura’s creative genius and “outside-of-the-box” thinking for many years. It was Laura’s idea to transform Martha Dendy Middle School into a Sixth Grade Center. It was Laura’s idea to create the Institute for Student Advancement (where selected 8th graders attended CHS and earned high school credits while easing the overpopulation at Bell Street Middle School). It was Laura’s idea to pursue and earn the Carolina Alliance for Technology Grant (a Federal Department of Labor grant with L55 and Richland 2) and the Gear Up grant (a Federal Department of Education grant with Calhoun County, L55, and Richland 2). It was Laura’s focus and support that helped us receive our very high score on AdvancED (the national and international education accreditation agency). Laura’s legacy though is not in her creative design, her many wonderful ideas and programs, or her passion to “push the boundaries.” No, Laura’s legacy is her genuine concern for people. She truly is a helper. She sincerely wants to take other’s problems, burdens, and sorrows and make them better. I guess it is no wonder her Instagram name is “Mama Laura.” She seeks to mother and love us all…even when we aren’t the most lovable. Laura was a tireless advocate for many of our students facing expulsion. Rather than seeking the quickest or easiest solution for a troubled or guilty student, she sought ways to discipline without anger, without malice, and with continued supports. She was the district’s advocate but also the parent and student’s defender. Why? She cares about people. All kinds of people! From all walks of life and along the entire spectrum of society’s continuum! I know this first-hand because she was always there assisting me. She helped me become principal at Clinton Elementary and then at Bell Street Middle School. She was interim superintendent when I received the opportunity to move to the district office. She nurtured and assisted me and countless others in their educational dreams and aspirations. Looking back now over the 40 years (from 1976 – 2016) I’ve known Laura, she really has remained true to herself and to the first time I ever met her…she was, is, and will forever be “stage manager.” You see, Laura never wanted center stage. She is perfectly content to be “behind the scenes” working to help make the “show” the best it can be. She has worked with numerous “actors” through her years but the intention, her intention, is ensuring the integrity and professional delivery of “the show.” And what might you think to be “the show?” That’s easy…it’s the educational experience each child receives in our district. She is little concerned over getting any praise or personal acclaim. She deflects that to others. She is just glad to make sure the backdrops, the scenes, and the props are ready for the next opportunity. She has been faithful to that purpose for 40 years. You’ll note that I titled this article “Farewell but not Goodbye.” That was deliberate. The word “farewell,” though often used as a valediction, is more intended for continued well-being or well-doing. Although Dr. Koskela will no longer serve as assistant superintendent, she will now coordinate the CAT program for three districts. I wish her the very best in her new pursuit and know our paths will continue to intersect. And for that I am most grateful! “Bring up the houselights and close the curtain.” Take a bow, Dr. Koskela! You certainly deserve it. (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens County School District 56.)

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