March 14, 2008

Gracious student becomes governor

Source: NYSUT News Wire
Caption: In this file photo, NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi welcomes then-Senator David Paterson to the stage for the union's 2006 convention in Rochester. The inspirational story of Paterson's relationship with his 'all-time favorite teacher' Clarice Broderick was the centerpiece of his address to convention delegates that year. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Lately, Clarice Broderick has been in high demand. Newspaper reporters from New York have been calling her seemingly nonstop and so too have reporters from television news stations.

It doesn't matter that she moved away from the Empire State more than a year ago to be with her daughter and grandchild in Chicago. The press wants to know all about her former student who sat in the front row with the big, thick glasses in her sixth-grade class at Hempstead's Fulton School all those years ago.

"I don't remember whether he got all As," said Broderick, who retired in 2000 from the Hempstead Classroom Teachers' Association on Long Island after 38 years. "But, he was an excellent student."

That student was David Paterson, who on Monday will officially become New York state's 55th governor. Paterson, who served as lieutenant governor under Eliot Spitzer, assumes the governorship March 17 in wake of Spitzer's resignation.

Paterson was a student of Broderick's during the late 1960s. Though it's been more than four decades, she and Paterson have always remained close. In fact, when he was elected minority leader of the state Senate in 2002, he asked Broderick to introduce him to the chamber.

"I just remember what an honor it was to be sitting there with all these bigwigs," she recalled. "They were saying, 'His sixth-grade teacher is going to introduce him,' and I turned around and said, 'Yep, that's me.'"

Reciprocity

Paterson returned the favor in November when he delivered the keynote address at the Hempstead Retirees Scholarship Luncheon on Long Island.

"He was so gracious," Broderick said. "He spoke about how important a pre-school education is for children today."

While running for lieutenant governor in 2006, Paterson spoke to delegates at NYSUT's annual Representative Assembly. During that speech, he referred to Broderick as his "all-time favorite teacher" and recalled how she would read to him after school so he could keep up with his studies.

Never forgetting the impact Broderick had, Paterson asked how he could repay her. All the former teacher asked was that her former pupil do something with his knowledge. Now, with Paterson set to become not only the state's first black governor but the nation's first legally blind governor, Broderick said Paterson has certainly kept his end of the bargain.

"I tease David that I will see him one day in the White House," said Broderick, who was active in the Hempstead Classroom TA as both a building representative and Executive Committee member. "He is brilliant. He was an unusual young man and he is a really a marvelous human being."

Though born in Harlem, Paterson - whose father Basil was a New York secretary of state and mother was a public school teacher in the Big Apple - was moved to Hempstead so that he would have access to more services and be mainstreamed into a regular classroom.

"His parents just wanted him to be a regular kid, and that's what he was," Broderick said.

Meanwhile, as an elected official in both the state Senate and as lieutenant governor, Paterson has been a fierce advocate for public education and has focused on ways to close the achievement gap and boost funding for universal pre-K.

"He gets that from his experience," Broderick said of Paterson's advocacy for public education. "You have to live it in order to fight for it."

- Matt Smith