Searching for a new challenge

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Jim McDaniel, Clovis Municipal Schools assistant superintendent for personnel, is retiring. He started as a teacher in Clovis in 1969.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ Staff Writer

Jim McDaniel said teaching hasn’t changed much since he started at what was then Gattis Junior High School in 1969.

He said today’s teachers have more teaching tools and broader duties, but the job is still about finding a way to connect with students.

“It’s not about what you do. If you tap dance, if a kid’s not learning, it doesn’t matter how good of a tap dancer you are,” said McDaniel, 62, who will retire next month after 39 years as a teacher and administrator with Clovis Municipal Schools.

“If you’re awkward and stumbling around, if the kids are learning, then it works. But typically, good tap dancing is effective.”

McDaniel, assistant superintendent of personnel at Clovis for the last 10 years, plans to return to teaching. He said in August he will be teaching math at Fort Dorchester High School in South Carolina.

He said he wanted to go back to teaching before he was too old and decided to move because he wanted a fresh start.

He picked South Carolina because his daughter lives there and is expecting to give birth in the fall.

McDaniel, who has lived in Clovis most of his life, has seen the school district change. He said he remembers when he attended Marshall Junior High, parents were up in arms because school colors were changed from purple and white to cherry and sliver. That same year, Gattis Junior High opened.

Last year, parents were upset that Gattis Junior High no longer had the green and silver colors after transforming into the Clovis High School Freshman Campus.

“It’s the same thing, 50 years later,” he said.

McDaniel began teaching junior high math at Gattis in 1969 a few months after graduating from New Mexico State University with degrees in math and English.

He said he began working toward a degree in electrical engineering, but switched because he said he felt engineering was too focused on problem solving and not on human relationships, which was something he felt was important.

He taught mathematics for four years at Gattis, English and math at Clovis High School for 12 years and served as assistant principal and principal for 13 years.

Clovis High School Principal Jody Balch was one of McDaniel’s high school students. He said McDaniel put the onus on students to perform in the classroom.

“Of course, whatever choice you made there was a grade and a consequence attached with it,” Balch said. “He’d give you just enough rope to hang yourself.”

Balch was teaching at Clovis High when McDaniel was the assistant principal. He said McDaniel always tried to see both sides of an issue, which can sometimes be frustrating to a teacher.

“But it was the fairest thing to do,” he said. “And it’s what you should do.”

McDaniel had that same open mind as head of personnel of the Clovis school district, according to Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

“Part of what makes him good at his job is he just has this innate sense of optimism, of belief in people and a belief that what’s right in a situation is going to prevail,” she said. “And kind of a hard attitude to maintain in (the) personnel (department).”

Clovis Community College Executive Vice President Becky Rowley said she remembers McDaniel as a funny teacher who knew ways to engage students, such as acting out plays.

“I think there were people in the class that probably would have ordinarily hated English that he was able to draw in,” he said.

Rowley said he inspired her to get a doctorate degree in English and work as an educator.

While he is excited about the move to a new city, McDaniel said he will miss the people of Clovis, many of whom were former students.

“I’ll miss being at the grocery store and seeing somebody that I knew when they were in the seventh grade,” he said. “Being at one place for a long time, you get to see the fruits of your labor.”