Patricia A. Alger
Superintendent of Schools
Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District
August 25, 1981-July 1, 1996
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"All things are possible if you are ready to risk. The teachers are the greatest resource the school has and we need to honor that with trust and encouragement."
Portrait painted by Charles Allen, former Miles River Middle School art teacher.
Here are words of remembrance written by Pat's good friend, Jane Carey.
Reflections on Pat Alger and her "Journey"-
Pat's career as a leader in education was launched a number of years ago in Queens, NY. Her first assignment as a Dominican sister was to teach first grade in a large parish school. In that class were more than 65 children. One of her tasks for certain school functions was to lead her students from the school building across a yard, down behind another parish building and on to yet a third building. Pat told the story about how the first time she set out to guide her charges to their destination, one little boy looked up at her and said, "Hey, teacher, are you sure you know where you're going?"
Pat always knew where she was going and worked out the best way to get there. She chose very clear goals and mapped out distinct steps to achieve them.
When Pat came to Rhode Island in 1970, her talent for knowing the way came in handy. Within a year she became the first woman in the state and the first nun in the country to be certified as an instructor in driver education. At the same time she was teaching high school social studies at St. Mary Academy Bayview where her American History class, like the Colonists, presented her with a list of grievances. They complained that she actually made learning fun. They held her responsible for lively family discussions around the dinner table, with an occasional argument about ancestors' involvement in certain illegal activities.
Pat liked to quote that "Success is a journey, not a destination." What a success story she is, most wonderfully acknowledged by the dedication of the new school library-media center in Hamilton-Wenham. But we remember her most for the "journey" -- how she went about accomplishing all that she did.
The second reading pretty much captured her style -- Pat was patient, kind, and never rude. She was a very positive thinker who really wanted everyone to be the best that they could be -- family, friends, children, teachers, administrators and she continuously encouraged and facilitated just that. She loved kids of every age and more than anything wanted to imbue them with enthusiasm for learning. Teachers in her view were the most important element in that. She insisted that they have the best training, the best of everything -- to be their best selves and then give back to the students.
Recently, one of her teachers wrote to her "Some of the best parts of who I am and what I'm able to do came from you and my connections to you."
Pat would be the first to tell you that she didn't do it alone. She insisted that good leaders surrounded themselves with people who in her words "could do more than" they could. Again, the second reading -- she wasn't pompous, she didn't envy the talents of others but really respected and appreciated them. And so she assembled her "team" of administrators -- they were just that, a team. But each had a unique relationship with her. Together they looked for that "hole for every donut" and brought the Hamilton-Wenham system to realms of excellence.
Pat said she knew when it was time to go -- when it was getting too easy to call a snow day!
Humor -- one of her trade marks. How many superintendents have been photographed having fun as a Halloween pumpkin wearing a witch's hat? Tyrone accommodated her when she needed a Wheaton-terrier reindeer for Christmas visits to classrooms. Serious moments also witnessed her incredible sense of humor. It wasn't beyond her at a contract negotiations meeting to whip out her boxing nun hand puppet to confront the president of the Teacher's Union. Last month when finalizing plans for her funeral and selecting the hymns, Pat listened to the Offertory hymn refrain, "All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you." Her eyes lit up and she said, "Oh that's good. I might even come back for that."
Pat believed that good leadership is based on building relationships. Again, what a success story -- starting with her family whom she loved and enjoyed so much. Then her Dominican community with whom she never lost contact, her Rolling Ridge Lane circle of friends who continuously marvel at the depths of their bonds, the Hamilton-Wenham community she loved to call "my people" and so many other friends she met through her interests or her travels.
Her love of adventure found her hiking in Wales, taking a ride in a glider plane at an abandoned WWII airfield in Cambridge. It led to her exploration of the pyramids, to working a barge on the canals in Oxford, and to the top of Mt. Etna in Sicily.
Wherever she journeyed her heart and door were always open to family and friends. Some may have shared her experience in the fisherman's cottage in Cornwall, or in a cozy thatched roof home in the Cotswolds, or maybe a hi-tech home in Fein, Germany, or at a delightful villa in Tuscany. For every trip she prepared well -- reading voraciously and packing sparingly. How many times she heard -- "is that all you're taking with you?" But she brought much learning and enthusiasm, and returned with so much more.
For this journey Pat had a lifetime of preparations and more immediate very carefully set plans. She knew where she was going and how she wanted to get there. Her question about these reflections was, "You're going to tell them I'm going back to God, aren't you?" But she was always concerned about others.
During the last few months she often asked a visitor, "How can I make it easy for everyone?" and she tried very hard to do that. But, there is no way to make it easy. We shall miss you very much, Pat.
We need to believe that your latest plans include that somewhere, at some time, we will meet and once again experience the adventure and joy of living in the company of Pat Alger. A faithful friend is indeed a joy forever.