Saugerties High School Assistant Principal Fred Hirsch, the district’s longest-serving administrator, will retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Hirsch will complete his 17th and final year with the district on graduation day, but he won’t be heading off to Florida, at least not full time. He and his wife Marcy live in Saugerties and don’t plan on changing that anytime soon.
“I love it here,” said Hirsch, and it’s true. He owns 12 rental units in seven buildings between Saugerties, Kingston and Catskill, and has a small sailboat he likes to take out onto the Hudson River. He visits IXL gym every day, dances — tango, swing, salsa — five or six nights a week, and is a part of the community. There’s a family cottage in the Booth Bay Harbor region of Maine where he’ll spend portions of the summer, sailing and kiteboarding. And, as the cold has become more difficult to deal with as the years have rolled by, two or three months in Key West are likely. But Saugerties is home, and home is where Hirsch is routinely met with questions about district issues.
“There’s no escape, though I think it will fade off over time,” he said. “I go into Lox of Bagels and I know the kids behind the counters and the parents and other people waiting in line. I go to Price Chopper, and I know the kids at the cash register and see people I know all the time. I go over to Cantine Field for an activity or event and I know people there. It’s a life, it’s not just a job. And that will fade over time because I will move on and people will move on. But it’s nice when I see kids who’ve graduated here maybe 10, 12 years ago, and they are starting families now and they have their kids. It’s great to see that sort of thing, that people are moving on in their lives.”
For most of his time in the district, Hirsch has made an annual birthday practice of writing a letter to the staff at Saugerties High. It was in this way that Hirsch revealed his intentions to retire, along with reflections of his time spent in the district. He identified the advent of social media and mobile phones as the greatest — and perhaps most perilous — change in the years he’s worked in the district.
“When I first came here, phones were absolutely forbidden, you couldn’t have phones anywhere,” Hirsch said. “And now phones are pretty much everywhere. In the classrooms it’s still teacher discretion, but in the halls, in the cafeteria they are everywhere. And they have changed how the kids behave. They’re a major distraction for some kids. Some kids would rather be suspended than separate from their phones.”
Hirsch recalled becoming one of the most unpopular men in the town with teenagers due to his enforcement of the SHS dress code, which sometimes resulted in his being flipped the bird out in public.
‘It’s happened less and less over the years,” said Hirsch, in part, perhaps, because the district’s dress code has relaxed over the years. “I’ve mellowed some also, too. I was more intense when I first started.”
Hirsch said that his advice to the next assistant principal at the high school is the result of lessons he learned and his own willingness to evolve as an administrator during his time in Saugerties.
“Take it slow,” he said. “Give it six months and get the lay of the land. But it’s also the art of working in the grey. Being a principal is finding the middle ground between the student, the teacher and the parents. There’s no black and white. It’s absolutely the art of the grey, and each situation is different and each situation is unique, and I or any administrator has to find the right answer that works best for the given situation. It’s not easy. So take your time.”
Hirsch said he’s enjoyed working with the staff at Saugerties High and across the district, and has been pleased to see students change as they’ve grown up and matured as well.
“I was just having a talk with a girl the other day who two years ago I could not possibly have had a talk with,” he said. “And she was owning her own behavior right now. Two years ago she would have blown up and blamed me, blamed the teacher, blamed everybody. And it’s great to see that the maturation process does happen. It happens for almost every kid here. It’s great. I’ve had kids come back and say, ‘Hirsch, I thought you were the biggest a-hole in the world when I was here, but now I get it. Now I understand what you were all about.’”
In his farewell letter, Hirsch said that if he decided to one day write a memoir of his time as an administrator, it would be called “My Life in 43-Minute Time Periods.”
“I feel really very, very lucky to have been trusted with such a position and so much responsibility,” wrote Hirsch in his letter. “I have truly felt honored, and yes, lucky. So I would like to wish for you, your family, and those around you, health, peace and true contentment as you continue on in this thing we call life. And I will continue to seek the same for myself. From the bottom of my heart — thank you very, very much!”