W.L Taylor is a retired school administrator. He currently lives in Palm Springs, California. Death in a Fair Place, published by Stillpoint Digital Press, is his first novel.
This episode takes place early in the novel. Lily Baxter, Associate Head of the Pemberly Oaks School, and Blake Carter, Chief Financial Office, meet up with Robert Bannerman, Head of School, on Parent Visiting Day. The Pemberly Oaks School is an independent school located just north of San Francisco in affluent Marin County.
The last Saturday of September is the regularly scheduled date of Parent Visiting Day at Pemberly Oaks. Current parents are invited for a morning of coffee, a sampling of their children’s classes, and meet-and-greets with faculty and administration. Among the members of the administrative team the day was known as an out-and-out love fest. Freshmen parents, in particular, were always anxious to share the news that Betty and Brad were terribly excited to be at Pemberly Oaks.
“Why you wouldn’t believe how much s/he loves getting up in the morning to come to school,” several parents gushed. “The campus is so beautiful.” “I wish I had been able to go to a school like this.”
Throughout the morning administrators would smile beneficently and hand out their business cards to parents and guardians who had questions or concerns. Faculty members on the other hand were less enamored of Parent Visiting Day since it cut into their jealously guarded weekends.
A buzzer sounded calling parents into yet another 10-minute mini-class. The open area in the middle of the five classroom buildings quickly emptied. Lily and Blake found themselves standing next to each other.
“Well, Lily, another success. You make it look so effortless,” Blake complimented.
Lily laughed. “It’s easy when you have a great staff to work with. All I have to do is swan in and take the credit.”
“We’re both lucky to have excellent folks we….” Blake began.
At this moment, Robert stormed over in their direction and before reaching them began speaking in a voice filled with rage.
“Well, I’m glad you’re both enjoying yourselves. I’ve just spent the last ten minutes having my ass chewed out by Sheila Atkinson’s mother. What the hell did you do with her daughter’s schedule, Lily?”
Lily and Blake stood in shocked silence.
“Well?” Robert demanded.
“Well? Well Robert,” Lily said, steel in her voice, “I worked my fingers to the bone last week to accommodate Sheila’s late schedule change. Oh, and did I get a word of thanks from either Sheila or her mother? Furthermore, Robert, this is neither the time or place for this discussion.”
“How dare you tell me what is appropriate…,” Bannerman began, but he was interrupted by a surge of parents leaving classrooms and heading for the coffee stations.
“We will discuss this later,” Bannerman declared before turning and wading into the sea of smiling faces.
Lily and Blake looked at each other in puzzlement before being surrounded by parents wanting just a moment of their time.
It was 9:55 a.m. when Blake grabbed a pad of paper from his desk and rushed out the door. Before leaving Gilman Hall he stuck his head into Nick and Jannette’s office next door.
“Off to MTM. Should be back by 11:00 or so.”
Nick, the Deputy CFO, looked up from a pile of accounts payable invoices. “Sometime I’d love to hear what goes on in those meetings.”
“Me, too,” Jannette, the School’s staff accountant, added enthusiastically.
Blake opened his mouth to respond but thought better of it. With a grin he said, “I’ll see you two in a while.”
As he walked toward Moore Hall he knew with certainty that the next hour would be largely wasted. The Management Team Meeting, or MTM, involved attendees making reports or raising the occasional question. In-depth discussion of any topic was actively discouraged by the Head of School. Early on in his time at Pemberly Oaks, Blake was perplexed by this reality until he finally understood, while discussing his perception over a glass of wine with Lily, that it was Robert’s method of maintaining control of the information available to his administrators. Knowledge was power and he was the nexus of school information.
In time, reports delivered at the weekly MTM became largely perfunctory. Once the round-the-table reports had been delivered, Robert would turn the conversation to his two favorite topics – the latest movies and gossip about Pemberly Oaks parents. The October 1st meeting didn’t deviate from this practice, though at its conclusion Robert announced, “No meeting next week. I’ll be at the American Association of Day School Heads symposium in Atlanta.”
Blake and Lily glanced at each other. The other administrators began to leave the conference room, but Lily and Blake lingered. When just the three of them remained in the room, Lily asked,
“Robert? Have you a moment? We wanted to talk to you about your comments at Parents Day.”
Robert turned as he approached the door to his office. “So sorry. Another meeting,” and closed the door to the inner sanctum.