As Elmira District Secondary School turns 75, Bill Exley reflected on his 34 years as the English department head.
“I taught a lot of amazing students and a lot of amazing people. Of course not all of them went onto become famous, but they were wonderful people and I’m sure they’ve done wonderful things that we haven’t even heard about.”
He’ll get the chance to learn about the lives of many of his former pupils during a variety of events this weekend, including a reunion dinner and dance this evening.
The agenda also includes an alumni discussion, featuring well known EDSS graduates Malcolm Gladwell, Bruce Headlam, and brothers’ Roger and Terry Martin.
Exley, the host of the roundtable, told The Observer he was excited to take part in the event.
“All I want to do is get them talking. I think it will be funny, and I think it will be really interesting for the audience because we will be talking about the influence the school had on our lives.”
Asked what made EDSS so special, Exley noted its “wonderful sense of community.
“I think because it wasn’t a city school, it was a rural school for much of the time I was there [1962-96],I think because we were on our own out there so to speak, people learned to think for themselves.”
He credits former principle H.B. Disbrowe for developing the school’s strong character.
“He always believed in teaching a good program, not a watered-down program, but a program of high quality,” he says, strengthening his voice to reflect the conviction with which Disbrowe spoke.
H.B., as he was known, truly cared about the students, and the staff really bought in, he said.
“Everybody viewed themselves as being part of the same kind of enterprise. We never made distinctions between people and we never emphasized the hierarchy at the school. We were all there working together to do what we thought was a good job. The custodian, John Howard, was a very important person who encouraged us as young teachers. We knew the bus drivers, the ladies who worked in the kitchen and the secretaries, and we were all part of the same program.”
Roger Martin, the former dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business and current Premier’s Chair in Productivity and Competitiveness, said he is looking forward to spending time with Exley and his former classmates.
“I think it will be fun and enjoyable,” he said, noting that his years spent at EDSS were “a very pleasant time.”
Martin acknowledged the positive influence of another EDSS principle, Merv Duke.
“He sort of said, ‘I don’t care if we’re from a small town and it’s a regional high school, we’re going to get great teachers and we’re going to make sure there are high academic standards.’ I think that makes a difference, when you have academic leadership that sets high standards and believes in the importance of providing a good academic experience.”
Information regarding this weekend’s EDSS 75th anniversary activities can be found at www.edss75.com.