Great teachers set out each day to shape the next generation of leaders by inspiring and taking their students on scores of journeys and adventures in the classroom — and not just through standardized testing achievements.
As a career educator and administrator, Dr. Robert E. Hirsch knows better than anyone what a powerful impact teachers can have on children and their families. He has experienced all sides of the educational system as a superintendent, principal, assistant principal, dean of discipline, French teacher, and even a school bus driver.
“I was a hippie dreamer,” Hirsch said. “I was going to change the world and make an impact.”
During his four-decade career, he witnessed teachers attain leaps of success, and a few crash and fizzle out. He’s had students begin kindergarten, graduate from high school, go off to college, and return seeking a teaching job.
His name carries massive weight in the educational communities where he’s sat on countless boards and committees offering advice and consultation, and despite retiring almost a decade ago, his phone still buzzes with advice seekers on the other end.
“Ah, but at first, I was considered the loosey-goosey of superintendents because when I became superintendent, I went from 1,000 rules to only 100,” Hirsch said. “As a principal, I piped music into the cafeteria. On Fridays, I allowed guitar players to play on stage. I’m a guitarist and all we want to do is play for an audience. I was the first high school principal in the state of Mississippi that allowed cell phones on campus. All these other school districts thought cell phones were a problem and ended up with lawsuits when they confiscated them. The problem wasn’t the cell phones. It was the response to cell phones that was the problem. Because of all that, I was loosey-goosey.”
And when he officially opened the new Ocean Springs High School in August 2012, he was grateful for each and every life experience he’d had leading up to the snipping of that blue and white ribbon. After a myriad of years of planning and pushing for a $37 million bond issue only to then be followed by construction delays, it was finally open, and more than 1,700 greyhounds were in complete and total awe. The school was so large that some of those students who first walked the halls compared it to a college campus and marveled at the design, length, altitude, and stature.
It was his educational legacy, right down to the performance center that holds his name, and it was time for him to retire. After officially unlocking the doors to the $60 million high school, years of exhaustion hit him all at once, and just like that, he filed retirement papers later that same day.
“It was my last act,” he said. “And we started that process in 2008.”
It’s definitely a great legacy and if you live in the Magnolia State, you’ve heard Dr. Hirsch’s name mentioned a time or two, and probably the story of building the 330,000 square foot Ocean Springs High School that resembles a college campus. But did you know what a humble beginning his life had and the obstacles he faced just to be able to cut that ribbon? Those who worked with him, and for him, know his story, his students have heard tales of his journey, but chances are the remainder of the state just sees a lifetime educator who pushed hard for a new high school.
There’s so much more of Dr. Hirsch’s vitality, energy, and life to unpack, so in the famous words of radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, “in a moment… the rest of the story.” (if you know, you know)
This is part one of a four-part series about the life and legacy of Dr. Robert E. Hirsch. Photos are courtesy of Dr. Hirsch and Our Mississippi Home writer Cherie Ward.
Editor’s note: Dr. Robert E. Hirsch is happily retired and living in Ocean Springs, MS.