Marilee, She Rolls Along

August 19, 2009 • Posted in blindness, book tour, Flo, Uncategorized, visiting schools by

Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Jackson Middle School in Orlando this morning. Know why? Because Jackson is an outstanding school. And know why it’s an outstanding school? Because my sister Marilee works there.


That's my big sister Marilee.

If you read this blog, you probably recognize Marilee’s name. She practically raised me, taking care of the house and making dinner for us every night when she was in middle school and high school; that’s when Flo had to start working full-time, our father had died and we were a single-parent household.

Lately Marilee has been accompanying me during book events at Printers Row Lit Fest and the American Library Association convention. She helps guide Hanni and me safely to our destinations, then makes sure everything is set when it comes time to sign, Braille and pawprint books.

Marilee is a wonderful sister. She is also a fantastic, dedicated, passionate educator at Jackson Middle School. From an AP article today:

Jackson Middle School is a school where most students are minorities and more than 80 percent receive free or reduced lunch, a measure of poverty. It has seen improvements in the percentage of students meeting high standards in reading, writing and math in recent years.

The VP and Education Secretary were at Jackson today to talk about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The vice president made his remarks at Jackson Middle School in Orlando, where he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan discussed the recovery act’s impact on education and the economy with a group of parents, teachers, students and administrators. Biden credited the stimulus plan with saving 26,000 school jobs in Florida, including 16 teaching jobs at the school he was visiting.

Hanni and I are going to be visiting that same school, Marilee’s school, and giving some presentations to students there at the end of September. It’s always a thrill to visit Marilee at work – she is highly regarded by teachers and students alike. I feel proud just holding her elbow as she guides me through the school hallways. She has always taken her role as an educator very seriously, going out of her way to attend conferences and take workshops and courses in order to learn all she can about education. She has heard Arne Duncan give the keynote at more than one of those events she goes to, so I know she was especially tickled to have him visit her school.

More from the AP story:

“What we tried to do is stave off an education catastrophe,” Duncan said. He called for raising expectations, including state standards that in some places are so low that even those who meet them are unprepared for college; encouraging the best teachers to go where they are most needed – including inner city and rural areas; tracking students and turning around failing schools.

In this instance, Arne was preaching to the choir. My sister Marilee is one of those “best teachers” he is talking about, and she already opted to work where she was most needed: at “a school where most students are minorities and more than 80 percent receive free or reduced lunch, a measure of poverty.” Marilee has been an integral part of turning Jackson Middle School around. I sure am proud of her.

MK On August 20, 2009 at 1:22 am

Marilee rocks!

Cheryl On August 20, 2009 at 3:03 am

What an exciting day for Jackson Middle School. Good goin’ Mare!

bethfinke On August 21, 2009 at 2:11 pm

I think Joe Biden is stalking our family — he flew to Chicago after visiting Orlando, and of all the places he could have eaten lunch yesterday, he chose “Custom House,” one-half block away at Dearborn & Congress. Secret service clientele wouldn’t let Hanni and me pass by on the sidewalk in front — obviously they didn’t realize I am connected. I know Marilee!

Janet On August 21, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Congrats again, Marilee!! beth, next time, don’t be such an obvious groupy…”hey, joe!! i know marilee!!! i swear, she’s my sister!!!”…and then throwing your beer at him when he disses you. next time, play it cool. ask the nice secret service men to hang onto your dog for a sec, and when he reaches for the harness, push him down make a dash for joe. that would be putting that dog to some good use…

bethfinke On August 21, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Wowee, Janet. Sleep deprivation is really setting in. Layd down! Get some rest!
You’re right on one count, though: even if the Secret Service had given me an opportunity to claim my case, they never would have believed I was Marilee’s sister.

Janet On August 21, 2009 at 7:08 pm

that obvious??? yeah, another all-nighter with ray. i knew i was in trouble writing it when i had a slap-happy moment, and thought i was hilarious! anyway, this is really cool! thanks for writing about another famous aunt of mine! xo, janet

marilee On August 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Thank you to my fan club! Thank you Beth for your kind words. I am fortunate to be able to work with professionals who are passionate, intelligent, caring and committed to kids. The programs at our school are the best. Thanks in part to our great principal who also needed a kleenex at the VP session. He is passionate about offering the best education to ALL students and has a special interest in kids with disabilities and 2nd language students. The message that Arne and Joe were delivering – yes they did have a message- was about a new “stimulus” program: “Race to the Top”- it will provide grant dollars to states, districts, schools (not sure where the $$ will drop in) for innovative ideas that will make all students “college ready” and eliminate the drop out rate. Yes, Arne said eliminate it. They want teachers to send in ideas- the teacher that asked the question will be a part of that, so you will probably hear more about Jackson MS. So I guess I am over the OOP-LA! and focused on the mission! School starts Monday!

bethfinke On August 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Need to add a footnote here, I forgot to mention in my blog post that the Jackson Middle School teacher who got to introduce Joe Biden became somewhat emotional and the VP offered his hankie- the news media is showing that online–“Teacher becomes emotional while introducing the VP.” That’s why Marilee mentioned in her comment that the Principal needed a hankie, too.
Although Marilee was not chosen to introduce the celebs, she *did* have a very important job: she’s the one who went to Publix before school and bought coke, diet coke and bottled water for the guests. Her office was the “holding room” before the event and she wasn’t allowed in there while the celebs were there. She’s pretty sure Arne Duncan sat in her office chair, though! Her husband Rick saw a news clip on TV and Arne Duncan was drinking a bottle of water- Rick knew that it was one that Marilee had touched!

marilee On August 22, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Actually Joe Biden sat in MY CHAIR at MY DESK! Arne Duncan had the book room across the hall. I started straightening up the book room before they came and the guy doing set up said it is fine- the Sec. of Education should be in the book room! I have a feeling he sat a bit with the VP in my office. On my desk I have Hanni and Beth Safe and Sound postcards in my pencil/pen desk set. I am quite sure he noticed them! Therefore the men in black should have recognized you in Chicago!

readingwithscissors On August 22, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I’m sure teaching can feel like a thankless job for long periods of time. I’m glad the VP and Sec’y of Ed took the time to recognize you all. Hope it’s the start of a great year for you all.

marilee On August 23, 2009 at 12:16 am

As the VP pointed out- a teacher prepares students for all professions- including President of the U.S. His wife is a teacher and he shared many teacher stories. He is aware of the commitment and passion that teachers have and how they work more hours than compensated for… you know too- readingwithscissors- your mom was a teacher. We are looking forward to a great year! Hope that education does become one of the nation’s priorities!

Leave a Response