A Final Goodbye to Mr. Duke

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This letter responds to “With Duke unlikely to return, Guidance looks to future” from the December edition of The Classic.

I eagerly anticipated the article about our beloved Marc Duke. Perhaps it would finally explain why a man who had devoted his life to service, to bettering and saving countless lives over the years, and who as recently as just before winter break, had told the administration he was eager to volunteer as a consultant and ease the burden on the Guidance department, would not be coming back. The article made very clear why Mr. Duke will not be back, but the facts were contradictory, and at best, misleading.

We learned that Mr. Duke was “begged” to stay on and not retire, but those of us who know Mr. Duke know that he would never have abandoned his students, not a man who was on duty 24/7, who accompanied students to hospitals, rehabilitation centers and clinics and always stayed with them until family could arrive. Indeed, Mr. Duke was asked to stay on, if not quite begged… but not last year, nor the year before. He was asked to stay on after Ms. Solomon, the former AP of Guidance, announced her plans to retire. It was felt that Mr. Duke was an indispensable member of the staff then, who could help make the transition smoother, and so, he stayed. He also stayed the following year, in spite of the fact that state funding had completely altered, and in many cases, obliterated the SPARK/SAPIS program. And it was Mr. Duke who made sure to ask the administration to look into whether or not it would be legally safe for the school, or for him, to continue to work.

The only reason Mr. Duke retired, and he made this quite clear to the administration and concerned staff, was that the program had changed. He didn’t leave “because students were taking advantage of his presence and cutting class.” The only portion of that statement that has “validity” is that students occasionally take advantage, but then, anyone who has ever worked in a school in which SPARK was considered a partner, not a pariah, has known that the SPARK office is not a prim, proper or tidy place. Teenagers and their problems are not prim, proper and tidy. Eating disorders, drug-addiction, alcoholism and suicidal thoughts and attempts are not prim, proper or tidy, but they are a part of many students’ lives. Mr. Duke knew this, as did, and do, Ms. Skoda, Ms. Fee, Ms. Nix, Ms. Carter, and Ms. Barone. These are some of the unsung heroes of this school and they have been for years—making those 911 calls, staying here late, and ministering to our students who most need them. Although the language used might have been referring to the erratic hiring and rehiring process, to describe such work—the work that Mr. Duke devoted his life to, and the work of these wonderful staff members—as “putting a band-aid on things,” if not intentional, nonetheless appears ill-advised and inappropriate.

I would like to believe that our students “have moved on,” or that some of the new strategies Guidance promises will offer them a safe and welcoming haven. We must wait and see… and for now, thank and wish well, our aptly named and noble “Duke.”

Mrs. Rizzuto is an English teacher in the Humanities Department.