Principal following in father's footsteps

Christopher Mirenzi remembers the sights, sounds of the first year of Magothy River Middle School - in 1974

September 03, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

For someone who just took the helm of Magothy River Middle School, Christopher Mirenzi has a vivid memory of when it opened in 1974 - the colors, the carpeting, the open classrooms.

To this day, he speaks of its principal back then with the highest respect. That man was his father, Joseph Mirenzi.

"At no point in time did I ever think I would be a principal in the school he was at," said Christopher Mirenzi, who has been in Anne Arundel public schools for 24 years, most recently as assistant principal at Arundel Middle School.

But he noted that the odds were high that their paths would align at some point. The elder Mirenzi, who died in 1990, also spent the bulk of his career in the Anne Arundel school system.

The Mirenzi family moved to Severna Park from Pittsburgh in the 1960s, when Joseph Mirenzi was hired as assistant principal to open Severna Park High School. He went on to open Severna Park Junior High School and Magothy River in Arnold before becoming the county's first director of middle schools.

Christopher Mirenzi remembers visiting Magothy River Middle School the summer before it opened. It was one of the first schools in the county to be called a middle school, as opposed to a junior high, and it had all the most modern bells and whistles, Mirenzi recalled.

The open floor plan was popular back then, so there were no real classrooms, just areas of instruction that were separated by furniture and half-walls.

Carpeting was installed to muffle the noise of so many children within earshot of each other, and the school was one of the first to have air conditioning, Mirenzi recalled. It was also painted in dazzling 1970s-era colors - yellows, rusts and greens.

Things have changed quite a bit since then. Though the middle school concept has remained, the open floor plan has fallen out of favor, and partitions have been added to the school to create classrooms.

Air conditioning turned out to be a nice idea, but the carpeting was not, especially for kids with allergies, so it has been removed. Just this summer, the school was painted, so the browns and yellows are nothing more than memories.

Several of the teachers who were there during Joseph Mirenzi's two-year tenure are still at the school. One is Dee McCreary, a language arts teacher who was hired by Joseph Mirenzi in 1975.

She remembered Joseph Mirenzi as "a wonderful gentleman, a real advocate for kids. He totally did everything for the best interests of the children." She liked that "he accepted teachers for their individual style," she said. "He really accepted what your talents were."

McCreary sees a lot of the father in the son. They even sort of look alike, she said. But more importantly, they are both tireless in their support of middle school teachers and pupils.

Though school has been in session only a few days, she's already noticed that the younger Mirenzi treats the children with respect.

"You have to have that in your heart, and the kids know it," she said. "I think the kids have already accepted him."

Mirenzi has four brothers who all went through the Anne Arundel public school system. His mother, Alice, still lives in the Severna Park home where he grew up.

His father influenced his career choice by expressing his belief that people should work hard and contribute to society, Mirenzi said.

"He believed very strongly in the value of service," Mirenzi recalled. "He spoke about the nobility of hard work. He certainly worked hard in his career."

He also believed that education had the power to make a real difference.

"We both agreed that education's the great equalizer," Mirenzi said. "I decided I wanted to be a teacher because there was nothing more valuable than a good teacher, and nothing that was more of a disgrace than a poor teacher."

Christopher Mirenzi started his career as an educator teaching math at Broadneck High School in 1983, the year after his father retired, he said. At the time, he never considered becoming an administrator.

But, he said, he eventually realized that good administrators could welcome and encourage teachers, and "that all trickles down to students in the end."

About 10 years ago, he became assistant principal at Magothy, then assistant principal at Marley Middle School and Arundel Middle School.

Now he's running the school he first saw in 1974, walking the hallways with his dad.

"I have many connections to this school," he said.

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