By Misha Corbett
Editor's Note - Misha Corbett is a fixture at Dream Lake Elementary. She has volunteered at the school for countless hours. She has been the PTA President, Vice President (current role), the Treasurer, and she was nominated to be volunteer of the year for the 2015-16 school year. She has known Gary Schadow for the past six years since her children enrolled at Dream Lake. Schadow will retire at the end of June as its Principal. Corbett is also a Administrator for the popular Facebook Group "Apopka Then and Now". This is her tribute to Gary Schadow in her own words.
Although he has been in education for 46 years, he didn’t come to be the principal at Dream Lake Elementary until the summer of 2006. At that time, approximately 31% of the students were of Latino heritage. That number has since grown to nearly 47%, with English being a second language for 28% of these students. In addition, Dream Lake is an ESE cluster site (Exceptional Student Education), which means children with disabilities who require specially designed instruction and services are at Dream Lake as well. Under his plan, the majority of these students were included in regular classrooms with all of the other students. Despite the diversity and challenges, Dream Lake Elementary was recognized by the Florida Department of Education with an “A” grade for eight years, and a “B” grade for two years of Schadow's tenure as Principal.
Gary came from a family in which he was the first to go to college. He could have followed the family trade and gone into construction except he found that “…building children was more beneficial and fulfilling” for him.
When asked what he enjoys the most about Dream Lake Elementary, his reply was quick. He said “It is the absolute, most beautiful staff to work with.” He is happy to work alongside people who went into education to make a difference in the lives of children and who understand that no two are alike. Gary explained that what makes Dream Lake unique is the acceptance of everyone that walks through the door. He and his staff will do anything and everything necessary to make sure that each child grows and has a brighter future. He is often heard saying “whatever it takes!” He indeed does whatever it takes. He directs traffic, picks up trash, shows up at spirit night, and listens sincerely when kids speak.
Gary will be retiring this month. According to him, what he will miss the most about being in education is that if he is having a bad day, there is nothing that will cheer him up more than an excited kid that wants to share with him what they learned or tell him about their day. As of now, he has no set plans about how he will spend his time in retirement. But, he just purchased a home in Apopka and hopes to get it in order. He is certain to do something though, as he doesn’t like to sit around. He is very content in knowing that God has a plan.
The parents and children of Dream Lake Elementary wanted to do something special for Gary. With the help of the art teacher, Mr. Gromley, each of the students drew a portrait of their favorite principal, Mr. Schadow. Then, the PTA board members lined the halls of the school with the portraits. When Gary arrived bright and early, he was greeted with 789 renditions of himself. One student drew him with many arms, which Gary joked is the only way to be a successful principal. There were a few that depicted him with a rainbow mohawk (he lost a bet with the kids). There were others that drew him as the superhero Kapow Schadow, while many just showcased his caring smile. Parents, students, and staff were as overwhelmed as Gary was as they admired the artwork. But, the surprises didn’t end with the “Gary Gallery” (which he admitted many of the kids couldn’t keep a secret about). He was then presented with a gift that did catch him off guard. Each of his students filled out a sheet to say “What does Mr. Schadow do all day?” and “What I will miss the most about Mr. Schadow is…”. There were some funny, cute, and sincere answers, all bound in books that he can treasure always.
Gary Schadow is one of a kind. He made working with him easy. He created a family environment where everyone felt that they were included and belonged. Clearly, he will be missed very much.
I wish him the very best in his retirement!