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Richard Ballou displays commitment to school

"We need to make classes fun so that kids think of school as enjoyable and not simply something to be endured," said scheduler Richard Ballou. Photo by: Gabe Dreye

by Ryan Condon
For longtime scheduler Richard Ballou, this year will be his last at this school. In his nine years here, Ballou has also been a math and history teacher, as well as serving for seven years as an assistant principal.
As this school’s scheduler, he maintains the master schedule, which has the block, teacher and room of every class in the school. The job also involves setting up students’ personal schedules in the spring, as well as creating reports for department heads and the School Committee.
Ballou grew up in Lexington across the street from a dairy farm, and “for a long time my family didn’t have a TV,” he said. “We would go over to the neighbors’ to watch TV, since they had a color TV.” Ballou also remembered “going mountain climbing and skiing with my parents, and also a horse-drawn ice cream truck,” as a kid.
Graduating Lexington High School in ’64, Ballou earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history from Boston College, a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and, in 1984, a PhD in history from the University of Michigan.
After graduate school, Ballou said he spent a long time writing his dissertation. During that time, he was a substitute teacher for more than 200 days in area middle and high schools and filled in for professors who were ill at several area colleges, he said. He also worked as a trainer, programmer and system analyst at Computervision, a company that worked in computer-assisted design and manufacturing, he said.
His teaching career started at F.A. Day Middle School as a computer coordinator and math teacher. At Day, he ran the “mountain trip” to Appalachian Mountain club facilities in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for six years.
He started to teach social studies instead of math in his fourth year and continued at Bigelow Middle School when it reopened.
Ballou is a National Board Certified teacher in social studies, and while teaching history at Bigelow, he said he noticed that the MCAS test can hinder learning in schools in Massachusetts. “Now that we have the MCAS, way too much effort and time is spent on teaching to the test,” Ballou said. “Now we teach kids information to memorize, not skills to learn.”
Looking for a different option rather than teaching history, “I started to get involved in scheduling a little at Day and more so at Bigelow,” he said. “One summer, I scheduled all of the students, and the Oak Hill students I scheduled another summer.” In 2002, he finally settled at this school.
Ballou had already been at this school as a student teacher, but this time, the experience was different. “I was following a scheduler with a lot of experience, and it was tough to fill those shoes,” said Ballou.
His teaching philosophy is that “all kids should be included, not just some,” he said. “We tend to either ignore or emphasize kids who are not doing well. I try and do neither and instead give all kids the same amount of attention,” he said.
His philosophy also includes “making classes fun so that kids think of school as enjoyable and not something to be endured,” he said. During his tenure as a math teacher, Ballou encouraged his students to “think of math as puzzle solving.”
Ballou said that his favorite part of teaching is being involved with students. “During the years that I didn’t have a class to teach, I really missed being involved with kids,” he said.
Part of Ballou’s job as a scheduler, he said, is to help small departments like Career and Vocational/Technical Education, fine and performing arts and physical education health and wellness get enough students to populate their classes.
Graphic Design teacher Sue Brooks said that she appreciates Ballou’s willingness to work with faculty to make sure that schedules fill the classes requested by students. Brooks said, “Because Mr. Ballou has been so accommodating, that has really allowed my program to grow throughout the years.”
Nancy Marrinucci, the head of the world language department, said, “Mr. Ballou is one of the kindest and most patient colleagues that I have ever worked with.”
A factor in Ballou’s decision to retire was, “When I was new to the job of scheduling, everything was new and exciting,” he said. “I had to use Microsoft Excel a lot, and it was challenging to use the program. I had to learn a lot of tips and tricks in order to be able to do my job efficiently and that kept me busy and active. Now that I know all the tricks, the job isn’t as fun anymore.”
Ballou spends his free time mountain climbing, sailing, canoe camping, skiing and bicycling, and said he plans to do more of these activities after retirement.
When he retires, Ballou plans to live in Farmington, New Hampshire, in a small log cabin, which is surrounded by 30 acres of forest, he said. One of his plans after retirement is being a good steward of this forest, he said.
His cabin is near the New Hampshire Farming Museum, where Ballou plans to volunteer, he said.

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