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Mr. Z Says Goodbye

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Retiring junior/senior high school principal Paul Zuzelski aka Mr. Z’s story begins when Z was at a meeting in central Kansas. He was given the phone and told he needed to talk to this person. 
“It was Jerry Burch, superintendent here at USD 494 asking if we could come for an interview,” said Zuzelski. “We were not supposed to end up here, we were a baseball family, and we were looking at schools with a baseball program. But Jerry convinced me to come to Syracuse.” 
At the time, highway 50 was undergoing major construction with long delays so they were told to come through Johnson. “Coming in from the south,” said Z, “I saw the lights and figured those were the ball diamonds, so we went towards them and saw cattle grazing on the grass!” They later learned that was not their usual source of food, but that they had gotten out of the fence, enjoying their treat!  
Looking around the campus, the junior/senior high school was under construction and Z thought this is really cool. Kent Eddy was the board president at the time and told him there were some challenges they needed to face, and he told me “Clean it up!” He asked Kent if he knew what that meant and Kent told them he would have their support. 
While they did not find the baseball program they were in search of, they did meet Rick Mathias. “Before I knew it, the boys had signed up for summer lessons and were on the course hitting golf balls, and they enjoyed it.” 
Their oldest, Tom, was in eighth grade and their twins, Adam and Alex, were in fourth grade. Tom began playing football but suffered a broken leg requiring surgery and had to be plated. 
As a freshman, he played baseball and golf at the same time, but fell in love with golf,” said Z, “The twins also took up golf, being born with a heart condition, that was the only sport they were allowed to play.”
Arriving at Syracuse schools, he was the third principal in four years. “I talked to Dustin Petrus, Carl Kilpatrick, and Christopher Phillipy.  They asked why we need to listen to you? You are the third principal we have had since we have been in high school, and you are going to be another guy here for a year then you’ll leave.” 
The rest is history as they say. Z said he and the board only had one fight in five years, “We do not have hardly any huge problems here, one of the greatest things in this size of school, is we know all the kids, know them by names, I even had kids in my building that I had their parents as students!” 
“I have always been a disciplinarian, my dad was in the Air Force for twenty-seven years, survived WWII as prisoner of war because he was an American citizen and moved back to Poland,” explained Z, “The only reason I am here was because when he was in a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, he was Catholic, not Jewish, “He was a straight shooter and that’s where I get my mentality.” 
Z admits it is a difficult job with a lot of stress, anxiety, and frustration, “But the majority of the day, this was a really cool place to work for the past twenty-three years.” 
He recalls one of his favorite days; “On the second to last day, we separated kids with teachers, and we moved the entire old school into the new school!” After they had finished, he and Superintendent Jerry Burch told the kids, thanks a lot and they cancelled the last day of school. 
Another was being recognized as a Blue Ribbon School. “The job we did with No Child Left Behind and being recognized was a huge reward for our school and our community, it states we try to provide a quality education for all kids.” 
“But the most special thing is educating kids on a daily basis for me, it’s always been about the kids, above everything or everyone else,” he said proudly, “And we have had a lot of quality people work for Syracuse Junior /Senior High School and I have appreciated their commitment.” 
While the Kansas Department of Education started a program to redesign the schools, Z explains they strive to redesign the school every year. “With the Sight Council, Building Leadership Team, administration and district leadership team, we make decisions about what our kids need for the next school year.”  
He explains although the demographic of students has greatly shifted, implementing ESL and Newcomers programs, helping our non-English speaking students, getting teachers involved in how to teach ESL students. “This can be challenging but I am really proud of our teams I have been involved with.”  
“Working seven days a week for twenty-three years, I don’t say that because I feel somebody owes me, but that is what I signed up to do, do what was in the best interest of the kids and staff at Syracuse schools,” he said. 
He began by instilling accountability and responsibility in seventh and eighth graders, helping to build a better high school, “There was some challenging moments early, but every year we got a little bit better.” 
Z said, “Leadership is bigger than in this building.” During the high school awards assembly, Kim Lohman, secretary/treasurer, historian for High Plains league, surprised Z by presenting him with a plaque, thanking him for his involvement. 
She said, “On behalf of the High Plains League, we would like to honor Paul Zuzelski principal at Syracuse schools for the past many, many, many years, which has made him an integral part of the High Plains League, the past few years serving as the president.” 
Lohman explained while he participated at the local and state level, she praised him for officiating volleyball, basketball, football, and baseball games and for KSHSAA events and was the area supervisor of officials, and was selected to work sub-state, regional, and state tournament games.  
He also served on the KSHSAA board of directors and KSHSAA executive board. While serving, he was a member of the classification study committee, that has worked on improving the way KSHSAA classifies its member schools.
Lohman said, “Z is retiring as a very highly respected member of the Syracuse community and all of the schools of the High Plains League, much appreciation and many, many, thanks for jobs.”   
In closing, Z commented, “Sooner or later you retire and someone else will come in and fill those shoes and I hope that those people come in with the same integrity and expectation to do great things for kids in Kansas.” 
“I’ve done my part in education for forty years, locally, in the league and at the state and I hope most people see I have done that well,” he added, “But it is time, I’m 65 and I want to spend more time with my family members, I love to read and fish, and I want to travel.” 
“Andy Coleman, who taught junior high science for me before his business got bigger and bigger, came to the house and gave me a gift, a Coleman Sprinkler tee shirt and work gloves. If I want to go mow yards for a day, I will!”  
“My wife (Barbara) has two more years until retirement. So we’ll be here for two more years if not longer, and I live a half of a mile from the school. I can substitute if I choose to, if they want my help at  a golf tournament or run a scoreboard, I will do that, I will not be inactive!” He also plans to officiate at volleyball games with Amy Brucker.
“One thing I don’t think schools can do is lower an expectation bar, I had an expectation for everybody, kids, staff, and as educators, it is our job to make all students jump as high as they are capable of doing,” he added, “I have yet to see a student go on and do great things when the expectation bar is at a level where they just have to walk over.” 
“That is one of the positive things about being in education if you don’t love kids, you’re in the wrong business, I hope they know I care for them.” Z added, “I enjoy a lot of people in Syracuse and look forward to continuing those relationships.” 
Z’s immediate plans? “I want to be structureless. If I want to go golfing or if Sam’s Pond is calm, I’m going fly fishing!” 

 

 

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