Former teacher excited about new role as Woods School administrator
September 08, 2010 | 08:47 AM
Geneva — It's the second day of the new year at Woods School and Ed Brzinski is sitting down with a few kindergartners in their classroom during free time.
Even in a kid-sized chair in a make-believe kitchen stocked with plastic foods, Brzinski towers over them. But he does so with a gentle smile which likely explains why his 6-foot-plus frame doesn't intimidate the children.
When Brzinski asks the children for a piece of fake cake, a boy tells him, "It might take a while."
Moments like these are why the former Spanish teacher at Lake Geneva Middle School stepped up to become the new administrator at Woods.
"The thing that has helped me the most through my career in education by far is my sense of humor," Brzinski said. "I relate most things through humor. I do have a serious side, but I also have to laugh at myself. At the same time, I also find humor and joy in what kids do."
Although he officially took over for former administrator Craig Cook in July, Brzinski said it feels right now that the 2010-11 year has begun.
"It felt odd to be at school without kids," Brzinski said. "It feels good now the kids are back. This is the way a school was meant to be."
Brzinski grew up in Posen, Ill., a small Polish community, with a father who was a railroad engineer for Baltimore & Ohio. His mother stayed at home until she became the manager of a furniture store when he was in eighth-grade.
"My dad just desperately didn't want us to work at a factory," Brzinski said. "Factories were closing at that time when I was growing up."
Brzinski said he wanted to pursue a career in education because of his sister-in-law's family, most of whom are teachers.
But Brzinski gave most of the credit to "Mr. Powell" for shaping his future career.
"I started in education because of my seventh-grade English teacher," he said. "He was very funny, but he was also the school drama coach and he talked me into doing the school play. See, back then, I was really shy, but he encouraged me to do it and he also made school fun. He would be the guy I would go back and thank."
Another key moment that shaped Brzinski's future in education was his time in Barcelona.
While Brzinski was studying for his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois, he took the opportunity to study abroad.
He arrived in Spain on Black Friday, 1987 — the day the U.S. stock market crashed.
Prior to that, the dollar-to-paseda conversion was favorable to those packing U.S. currency in their pockets. But there's a reason they call it Black Friday.
"Everybody from the U.S. instantly lost one-sixth of their money," Brzinski said.
So, in need of cash, he found there was a market for English-speaking people to teach their language at the University of Barcelona. In Spain, students at the university are about the same age as high school students in the U.S.
That was Brzinski's first experience teaching in a classroom.
In 1989, he became a Spanish teacher and wrestling coach at Denison Middle School, now Central-Denison in Lake Geneva. Then, he made the transition to Lake Geneva Middle School in 1999.
"At Denison, I taught on a cart, mostly," he said. "It was nice to go to the new building and have my own room."
Brzinski welcomed the change.
"I've probably had … somewhere around 3,000 to 4,000 students at that time, which is quite a number, and around 1,000 parent-teacher conferences," he said. "I see kids all the time and they go, 'Don't you remember me?' I go, 'Yeah, could you give me a name?' Because a kid changes after the age of 12 so much."
Now, Brzinski makes another transition — from inside the classroom to inside the principal's office.
"I'd been working toward an administrative position like this since the mid 1990s," he said.
He finished his curriculum degree in 1995 and his administrator's certification in 2002 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and UW-Madison, respectively.
But when he applied for positions, he was looking to meet certain self-imposed criteria. Brzinski and his wife, Kathy Daniels, a sixth-grade teacher at Lake Geneva Middle School, had moved into the Woods School District 15 years ago for a reason.
"I enjoyed teaching so much it would be hard to leave the classroom," he said. "So, when I looked for positions, I knew it had to be something special to get me to leave the classroom. Woods school is special. I thought it would either be this (job) or nothing. You can't ask for a nicer position than this. It's a great school and a great group of people."
Now, he's administrator at a school in which his two sons, Simon and Will, are students.
But there's a tradeoff.
"This is the first time in 19 years my wife and I don't drive to work together," Brzinski said.
Still, being the new administrator at Woods is something Brzinski discusses with a childlike grin.
"Even the problems are going to be fun because it's helping kids get through stuff," he said. "I'm excited about every day."