Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What to do about Zimbler

David Zimbler didn’t stand a chance. Before he even crossed the threshold of the high school’s main entrance last year, he was a marked man.

His predecessor, Jim McCaffrey, was beloved by students, faculty, staff and parents alike, which may have been an unprecedented feat for a principal at Riverhead High.

Last year, when the new superintendent brought with her a new principal to replace Mr. McCaffrey, a retired principal serving as an interim, with one year remaining on his three-year contract, there was an uproar. The kids wanted no part of the new guy. I know this because I have two children in the high school, and they were as unhappy with the change as were all of their friends.

Everything Mr. Zimbler did or said was unpopular with the kids, whose opinions, I found, were often shaped by comments of teachers in the classroom criticizing the administration for this or that policy or rule. Students even started a Facebook group called something like “David Zimbler ruined Riverhead High School.” The group on the popular social networking Web site was formed within weeks of the beginning of the last school term. Talk about a rush to judgment.

By the end of the school year, while Mr. Zimbler was still no Mr. McCaffrey, it seems a lot of the skepticism and resistance his presence inspired had worn away — at least among the kids. Some teachers, I think, may be another story.

But Mr. Zimbler made a “bad decision” on June 13, as he says in his letter to the community sent to The News-Review for publication this week. (See page 8.)
A really bad decision. One of the worst decisions anybody can make. He drank alcohol and got behind the wheel of a car.

While Mr. Zimbler now faces public humiliation and possible disciplinary action, or worse — his career may be on the line — he is a very lucky man. Driving while intoxicated on June 13, Mr. Zimbler was lucky he didn’t hurt or kill someone. Anybody who drives while under the influence of alcohol or drugs without hurting or killing someone is lucky. People are hurt or killed by drunk drivers every day.

Yet people keep drinking and driving. Lots of people. People you know. People you love. People you respect. Maybe even you.

I know I’ve done it. I have driven home from parties or nights out with friends after having imbibed alcohol and might have flunked a Breathalyzer test had I been stopped by a cop. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet I’ve taken the same risk that David Zimbler took on June 13 and didn’t get caught. I, too, was lucky — not that I didn’t get caught but that I didn’t hurt someone, or take someone’s life. May God forgive me my stupidity.

Now I’m no party animal, and I don’t take risks the way I did when I was younger. But before we tar and feather David Zimbler, we’d all best look within. Even if you’ve never had a drink in your life, haven’t you ever made a mistake or done something incredibly stupid that you regret? Who hasn’t?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not minimizing the seriousness of Mr. Zimbler’s offense, or the stupidity of his action. I’m not suggesting school officials look the other way or give him a slap on the wrist. As high school principal, he is supposed to be a role model for our children. But as a human being, he’s fallible, and in his fallibility he can also be a role model — by admitting his error, as he’s done, and by talking about it very frankly and openly with his students. And if he has an alcohol abuse problem — something none of us is in the position to know right now — he can be a role model by admitting that, talking about it, seeking help and talking about that, too.

Our kids need to hear adults admit we’re not perfect. They need to learn from us how to admit to making mistakes. They need to learn from us how to face the consequences of our mistakes and bad decisions. They need to learn from us that it’s all right to seek help, if we need it, to deal with substance abuse issues.

David Zimbler has an opportunity to teach kids these important lessons. It sounds like he gets it. We should encourage him as he works through this and encourage him to be that role model in the process.

The district administration and school board also have an opportunity to use this bad situation to accomplish something good. It should break with precedent and be forthright about what the principal did and what action it’s taking to discipline him — as well as how it’s working to prevent other teachers and administrators from making the same mistake. The “no comment, this is a personnel matter” response doesn’t serve anyone well in this situation, least of all the kids.

Finally, the rest of us should be on the lookout for people who will seek to exploit this terrible circumstance to further their own agendas. You will recognize them and what they are trying to do. We should all insist — also breaking with precedent — that reason prevail in Riverhead.

e-mail: denise@timesreview.com.

Copyright 2008 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe he should do a Spitzer perp walk.
Make him appologize in front of an assembly of the student body on the first day of the upcoming school year, then resign.
The example here is when we make poor personal decisions, it can have an impact on other parts of our life.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should resign from your job for doing that stupid thing you did that you were lucky enough to get away with!

Anonymous said...

well, after having some time to really absorb the entire situation i think that firing mr. zimbler is not the answer. i do strongly feel that the apology letter printed in today's paper was inadequate. firstly, mr. zimbler should have made an announcement before newsday ran their article and secondly, he never admitted what he did. the first step toward forgiveness and healing is a complete admission. saying that he made a "bad decision" and referencing a car does not properly admit to being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. would the people of riverhead have ever known this happened if the paper hadn't gotten hold of it?

i, like the quiet majority, believe that dr. scricca and mr. zimbler represent a positive change in our schools. they give a chance that our district will be released from the stronghold of complacency. challenging the staff in any way and holding them accountable can only benefit our entire community. the football coach should have been fired on the spot and arrested for endangering the welfare of the children in that gym and the fact that a portion of the community hates both mr. zimbler and dr. scricca for their role in admonishing him is truly pathetic. the teacher's union is out of control with power and the former board was not adept in controlling the forum. i hope this year will be more productive as we will all need to pull together to get the kids through the tough economic challenges that lie ahead for RCSD.

so, why is this anonymous??? fear of reprisal-plain and simple. i want to work as a professional in our district and i am well aware what happens to teachers who buck the union. so sad, really!

Anonymous said...

Nice to see a truely fair, reasonable and tolerant statement. More people need to take a step back, assess the entire situation, and make a decision, insted of being so willing to lash out. I agree that a more humble approach needs to be taken as well as ownership for the choices that Mr. Zimbler made, that will then show some true character. Sorry, anonymous 1, for my anonymous 2 statement, I get frustrated sometimes that people are so quick to crucify.

Anonymous said...

WWJD?
Let's all gather 'round Zimbler and sing KumBaYa.
Get real! Golden Boy Z needs to grow up, not behave like a reckless teenager.
The lesson to the community is not about forgiveness, but about responsibility.
How is he going to have any street cred in a district that has a zero tolerance policy on the books for students and preaches a just say no approach in class.
Then again, let him stay. It will teach the kids that the real world is full of double standards.

Ceil said...

Hi Denise...Well, I have made some really bad choices and big-time mistakes during my lifetime. Sometimes I got away with it;sometimes I paid dearly..BUT I did learn valuable life-lessons.

My first impulse before, I read his letter, was to call for his resignation. This was kept from tax-paying citizens since June and why?

We don't tar and feather folks and parade them around Riverhead town-- we all know what he did.

His apology was adequate. Now he has to back up his words. Words, words and more words. Isn't anyone else tired of hearing words without action?

Mr. Zimbler, can use this as a learning experience for himself and for the kids by acknowledging his transgression and learning from it.

The kids will see someone genuinely contrite for the bad example he set. (Surely sometime in their young lives each will be called into accountability.)

But, will Mr. Zimbler say Whew! I got away with it; or will he have learned a lesson?

Anonymous said...

It is appalling to me as a parent, and tax payer in the town of Riverhead to read the News Review article “Principal arrested for DWI”. This article references David Zimbler's letter of apology for his “poor choice on the evening of June 13” and of his subsequent “bad decision”.
The operation of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .13 percent some 75 minutes after the police witnessed and arrested David Zimbler for his erratic driving on the LIE North Service Rd, constitutes his total lack of judgment(not error in judgment) and respect for the law, not to mention his greatest offence of placing innocent peoples lives in danger.
David Zimbler does not deserve the title or position of Principal. The only teachable moment that he should be afforded,which would send a loud message to our children as consequeces for his behavior, is his admission of guilt and the submission of his letter of resignation.
He chose those drinks, and he chose to drive instead of calling for a cab or a ride. Those actions are NOT the behavior of a man deserving of a leadership position, nor are his actions “forgivable”.
The taxes we pay for the salary of our educators will be better spent on a candidates with higher standards.
David Zimblers apology letter in the News Review, in my opinion was merely the words of a broken man trying to save his job.
As a parent in this community I do see the whole man. And what I see is a man who, yes did make a mistake, and yes (the man, not his actions) does deserve to be forgiven, however you do have to face the consequences of your actions.
I am sorry but David Zimbler is not the man I want my tax dollars wasted on. Let him rehabilitate himself on his own wallet.
Like I said our tax dollars should go to candidates our cildren can lookup to and emulate.
A Principal arrested for DWI obviously was the wrong choice for the position. Denise dont you think our children deserve a better role model?

Anonymous said...

Bravo to the anonymous writer @4:21pm. I believe that you hit the nail on the head. Being an "old timer" myself, I still remember clearly the three young people (two of which were RHS students) we lost on the LIE on News Year's Eve to a drunk driver. It was devastating to those families and this community. Our district has seen many administrators come and go since then and they may not be aware of this event. I would venture to guess that there are many who still remember and miss them dearly. It will be incredibly difficult for Mr. Zimbler to be held in any sort respect or regard by his faculty, students and community.

Robin Flannery said...

I, too, was prepared to dislike David Zimbler - but for different reasons. While I also respected and admired Principal McCaffrey I understood that he was "interim."

What I did not understand was the multitude of administrators that followed Diane Scricca to Riverhead. Yet, I gave them a chance.

My daughter (a senior at the time) had an issue wherein she would legitimately miss an important exam, so we went to the school to explain the situation. The situation got out of control and I became embroiled in a heated argument with another administrator. Principal Zimbler stepped in and handled the matter in a dignified, professional manner. Only now am I aware that this situation was AFTER his arrest.

I am impressed with his actions as a Principal of Riverhead High School. I am not impressed with his actions on June 13th. However, I cannot cast a stone...

This will surely be a test for our "new" School Board!