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Photo by Tina Demo
Featured Faces: Tim Marciniak
Interview August 26, 2010
by Jeanne Lesinski

While teaching at all levels over the course of five years in the Bay City Public Schools, Tim Marciniak earned a master's degree in educational administration and the esteem of his colleagues. When opportunity knocked as his door, in the form of the school district superintendent offering the principalship of Central High School, Marciniak looked hard at the job and into himself. Stepping through the doors of  Central, he realized: "This is where I was meant to be."

Jeanne Lesinski: It's easy to see that you're in your element.  

Tim Marciniak: I love teaching because as a teacher you're on the front lines with the kids all the time. As an administrator I get to deal with all the kids in the building. I get to deal with them in an different kind of environment than just in the classroom, out in the hallways, out in the commons areas, ... it just sort of grew and I realized that this is where I was meant to be.

I taught as a fourth grade teacher; I taught remedial English and math at Western intermediate school, then transfered over to Handy Middle School and taught language arts in 7 and 8 grades. One year in fourth grade at McGregor Elementary.  I've had the experience of doing all three levels, which was wonderful for me. You get a different aspect at each level, to see what the students are like.... In elementary, you have to be very nuturing, but by the time you get to high school, you have to be a content expert. Still, even high school kids need to connect with someone, and the teachers at BCC are very good at that.

JL: At graduation in 2009, I remember you saying in your speech that coming up to BCC at that time with that group was like coming up with your family. That whole family aspect that you bring to your job strikes me.

TM: These are my kids. I say that at every graduation. I have the best job in the world. I get to see freshman grow; the maturity growth between a freshman and a sophomore is tremendous. Are they going to go on this path or on another path. ... It was just wonderful to be part of their life for four years. That was my "baby" class. Together we grew alot over four years. Changes in scheduling and seeing kids grow and sending them off to schools, knowing they are going to be our leaders. It's very exciting. That was my recruiting year. I enjoy every class, but that one will always be very special to me because we grew together. It was a big learning curve for me, and those kids were there every step of the way for me.

JL: As in any family, you can't divorce yourself from the challenges. You've really expressed the joy of being a principal. What do see as the biggest challenges?

TM:The biggest challenge is the students who just aren't motivated. I've always been blessed because in my family there was no question: You're going to college. Education is important. That's a big struggle for me when that isn't expressed at home, the importance of education. When they get here, they're not as motivated. They don't seem themselves as breaking that cycle if there is poverty in the home. Somebody has to break that cycle if there is poverty in the family. That takes a very strong person to say, "I'm not going to be just like them. I'm going to branch out and do something different." So that's the challenge.

Some kids don't realize how good they actually have it, if you look at schools that are in other areas. There are other places in Bay County struggling more than we are...our building is known for its diversity and among the kids there are some who just don't get the support at home...I do get very frustrated, and I work with the students to give them chances, and I keep working with them, and when they don't take advantage of that, for me it's very sad to see students not take those chances... 

When they find their niche they can do well. Sometimes the Wenona Center is the right place for them because it's smaller. They have alot of success stories over there too. Some we just lose completely, and then they come back a few years later and say, "I wish I'd done this or that." That's the frustrating part for me.

JL: You took last year off with a leave of absence to deal with your own personal challenge. Would you like to tell me a little bit about that?

TM: In July of '09 I hurt my back playing ball and I went to the doctor and told him about my lack of energy. He examined me, did some blood work, called me back, did some more blood work, and then called me back again and sent me to an oncologist for multiple myeloma. He did a whole bunch of tests for multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the plasma cells (white blood cells) of the bone marrow. Come to find out August 25—I remember it well—was the day I got the call. I was in Lansing for a workshop. I got the call from my doctor. The biopsy, everything came back saying that I was diagnosed with cancer at that point. My wife and I had had about a month to prepare ourselves, so we were sort of prepared, but when you hear that C word, it rocks your world alot.

So, I was diagnosed with that at the end of August. I met with my superintendent and HR director. I was really worried about this job because it was the beginning of the school year, and I didn't want to leave this job. So, we came up with the plan that the retired principal from Western H.S., Oren Lusher, would come back for a year. He's a great guy and did a wonderful transition. I thought I could start my chemo on September 9 after the school year started, but I was supposed to meet some kids the week before school officially started, and I realized that day: I can't start; I can't see these kids. I can't see them then leave. That was very difficult. I sent a letter home to the parents and students and staff and in September started chemo.

I did chemo from September until February. I did a stem cell transplant at the end of March, with a 17 day hospital stay in Detroit. I'm almost at 180 days post-transplant. I'm in remission. I take a small dose of chemo every day, a maintenance dose proven to keep the cancer in remission longer. It doesn't help the survival rate, but makes remission last longer. It takes a whole year for the immune system to rebuild... They are very cautious about my coming back., but I got all the clearances.

JL: You weren't afraid to shake my hand.

TM: Well [laughs] I have little bottles of hand sanitizer hidden everywhere.

It was shocking to get this rare form of cancer. The average age for this is 62, but I'm only 42. Cancer is rampant in my Dad's side of the family. My dad was diagnosed with cancer and told he'd have six months to live; that was 16 years ago. That's my inspiration. He's had a good attitude about everything. But some days are hard.

JL: You did something I think is very wise. You gave the students and their families an outlet to help you. Whenever someone we like is hurting, we want to be able to help.

TM: "Overwhelming" doesn't begin to express the support that Steph and I felt. I was approached by a parent in October, wife of a former coach, who wanted to help. I've learned that that is how people cope; they have to give. I didn't know that. Steph and I both have good jobs and good insurance...  So we started the "Mending Marciniak" program. We decided to use the money for scholarships for students. Two seniors going into the medical field got scholarships last year; maybe one day one of them will find the cure for cancer. We'll continue to do fundraising throughout the year, so we can offer more scholarships.  

The support has been overwhelming. Not one day passed that I didn't get cards...on the good days I wanted to go in to school. On the bad days, I knew I couldn't; I couldn't put myself in jeopardy... I don't know what I did to deserve the support. I guess I just treat people well.

So when I did my graduation speech this year, it was about giving back. You just have to give back, whether it's to this community or some other community you live in, or the community of your family or friends. People don't understand how important it is. It's also important to realize that if you're not a person who accepts help easily, you have to accept it because that's a way you're helping other people by letting them "do something." ... Sometimes we just had to shut the door because I had to get my rest. People were respectful of that. 

People have kept asking me, "What's your cancer epiphany?" ... My message, it's the same as it's always been: You've got to give back. I guess now with going through everything, I'm doing that at a higher level.  

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2010