A friend on Facebook was posting about the bittersweet feeling of having her last IEP (Individual Education Plan) for her daughter. I mentioned that we had had the best Special Ed Director in the world when the kids were in elementary and middle school.
I knew Steve had retired in September. The Facebook conversation reminded me that I hadn't talked to him in a while. I thought I would drop him a note thanking him for everything he did for my kids.
He died on October 24. He was only 60.
Steve Gingras was one of the good ones. He fought for the special needs kids in the district, even as tightening budgets made getting services harder and harder. He attended every IEP for every kid who was in a special day class in person, rather than sending a representative. He fought to get resource services for the Not-So-Little Drummer boy when he was in elementary school, because he was performing so much under his potential, and had significant trouble with fine motor skills. Many another SED would have ignored the issue, since by a lot of objective measures the NSLDB was not doing badly in school.
On one occasion, I commented to the Speech & Language teacher that I was worried that one of the kids I observed on the playground had an autism spectrum disorder. She replied that the parents were fighting testing. The next year, the kid -- who did indeed have ASD -- was in a special ed class. She and Steve had convinced the parents to get the boy assessed and helped. A lot of others would not have bothered, since the parents were not pushing for an evaluation.
So many of my friends have talked about having to fight school districts to get services for their children who needed it. While we occasionally had gripes about the services we got, we did not have fight to get help for our kids. We never doubted that Steve put the kids in his district first.
He was also a good role model for the kids: in addition to being caring, he was also definitely his own person.* He wore a beard and a ponytail, and occasionally a Grateful Dead shirt to work. Okay, so it was a tasteful lavender polo, but it had the Dead insignia on the pocket. Once, a parent came into the office at the elementary school, breathless with worry because a "strange man" was walking about campus. "Does he have a gray ponytail?" asked the secretary. "Yes," replied the parent. "Oh, that's only Steve. He belongs here."
As indeed he did.
Farewell, Steve. I am so sorry I didn't tell you in person what a marvelous guy you were, and how much you helped all three of my kids, especially Railfan.
The world is a lesser place now that you're gone.
*Okay, so he smoked like a chimney, and had to fight off a bout of esophageal cancer as a result. Nobody's perfect.