After more than four decades working with eight superintendents, Stephen K. Hess has accumulated historical and institutional knowledge about Frederick County Public Schools that his peers say will be irreplaceable when he retires.
Hess, the school system’s director of research, development and accountability, was hired as an English teacher at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School for the 1970-71 school year. He was offered the position while he was still student-teaching in the spring of 1970. His last day with Frederick County Public Schools is Jan. 31.
Teaching was not always in the cards for Hess, who never went into a public school until he began working in one. With a Vietnam-era draft lottery number of 13, he fully expected to serve in the military after graduating from college, he said. But Army medical staff ruled him ineligible for military service, freeing him to explore other career options.
Hess initially planned to teach for a couple of years and then join his brother in taking over their father’s commercial plumbing, heating and air-conditioning business.–His starting salary of $6,900 a year did not increase at a pace that kept up with the financial demands of being married with young children, Hess said.
“The construction field continued to have some appeal, both from a financial perspective and my earlier work history,” he said. “However, I truly loved teaching, particularly … disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.”
Over 43 years, Hess taught language arts, pre- vocational education and special education. He was a special education coordinator, principal, and now director of research, development and accountability. He leaves the job making an annual salary of $137,000.
He has worked with students of all ages and ability levels and their families, Hess said, and probably his most rewarding times were spent at the two ends of the spectrum — working with gifted students and those with disabilities.
Hess started in the profession before passage of federal laws requiring public education of students with disabilities, and he has seen a lot of changes in the field of special education.
“Teachers and aides used to carry students in wheelchairs up and down … steps” before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Hess said.
The Frederick County school system is better because of Hess, Deputy School Superintendent Steven A. Lockard said.
“He has taken on a number of different roles and responsibilities with the school system, but what stands out most about Steve is that he continues to bring the same level of passion, commitment and dedication to his job that he did when he first started,” Lockard said. “Steve’s historical and institutional knowledge of Frederick County Public Schools is incredible, and cannot be replaced.
“One of the things that I won’t forget about Steve is his quick wit and his large repertoire of clever sayings,” Lockard said. “Steve was always able to bring some appropriate and timely levity to even the most challenging of situations. It has been an absolute honor to work with Steve, and I have learned much from him.”
Hess, 64, said it is time to enjoy his grandchildren, travel with his wife, Annie, and devote more time to playing music with his group, Sarno & Hess. He is training with CALM of Frederick County to be a certified conflict mediator.
Teaching offers opportunities to make a difference in the lives of our most important resource, our children, Hess said.
A friend sent him a framed passage that Hess continues to value: “If you want to touch the past, hold a stone. If you want to touch the present, pick a flower. If you want to touch the future, teach a child.”
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