Jack Phipps, 1938-2023
Jack Phipps was one of the best experiences of my time at CCHS. I learned a lot from everyone there, but Mr. Phipps was an exceptionally bright star. He would tell it like it is but be incredibly chill. "Chill" is an overused word, one used to describe both good and bad things nowadays. But that's how I remember his office. How I remember he talked about issues great and small. There was always a tremendous sense of ease, as if we didn't have to worry that being in school and trying your best wasn't enough. I don't think I can convey the enormity of that blessing. Only at 37 did I realize how much nervous energy I contain, and right now at 43 I'm a hyperanxious mess who runs over his own words.
His Algebra class was a joy for a freshman who had no idea what high school was. I don't remember it being a transformative experience, but I feel like that wasn't the point. Sure, you learn about parabolas and factoring, but that's not really what's important. What's critical is that there's some sense of order, that you can solve the given problem and achieve something. I was absolutely miserable in grade and middle school. Being in a classroom with a friendly teacher who genuinely enjoyed solving math problems never felt like a chore.
I don't think it is possible to do justice to the pride he brought to his job. His own words seem most fitting. He said he spent the best 53 years of his life at CCHS, continually amazed by what the students taught him. I believe it. A small story will illustrate what I experienced. Senior year I was getting exceptionally high grades in most of my classes. I was pushing to be something more. I think I had more A+'s than A's. And in the middle of it all, a C. I wasn't terribly down about it, but the work I was doing wouldn't show unless someone cared to ask. And I knew I wouldn't be able to say what I was doing. You'd have to really ask to know I had read my previous history textbooks cover to cover, that I kept up with 2 or 3 political magazines, that I was hungry for trips to bookstores or the library, that I spent time thinking about how the material from one class fit into another. I recall some teachers hinting "yeah, this guy knows something," but there were a lot of people in my life who were like "Meh. Whatever. Kids do things."
So Mr. Phipps stops me in the hall and tells me I have an excellent report card. More than excellent – he doesn't quite articulate "there are strengths here which can't be graded," but that's what he conveys. I didn't think too much about it at the time, but it stayed with me. I'm an award-winning teacher now, and the attention to detail Mr. Phipps demonstrated is second-to-none. Most of you will hone in on a guidance counselor knowing a number of seniors will let their grades dip. But Mr. Phipps knew I wasn't that kind of student. He knew I was someone pushing myself no matter what the circumstances were, and he took the time to acknowledge that. There's literally no other reason for this. He had plenty of other students to attend to, ones who were doing far more important things like representing the school. He had his own grading for his own classes to do; I hadn't been in his classes in 3 years. At this point in my career, I've served a number of students from areas which are not in great shape. I can safely tell you that there are a lot of people who only look at report cards to bully a kid.
The world is a poorer place without Jack Phipps. Fortunately for us, he took the time to forge more people like himself.