When the copyright page of a book contains a disclaimer that includes the phrase, “Characters have been combined and changed to no longer bear resemblance to reality,” the reader knows something juicy is inside.
When that book is written by the former principal of Browns Valley Elementary School, Lenore Hirsch, residents of Browns Valley may start guessing identities and comparing notes.
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Such is the case for Hirsch’s latest book, “Schooled: Confessions of a Rookie Vice Principal,” (November 2021, Laughing Oak).
The story is set in the Bay Area and follows the daily highs and lows of Cynthia, a new vice-principal of Hamilton Middle School, for a year. Cynthia must learn to deal with a smarmy principal, who offers no guidance in her new role, and decide whether dating a teacher could lead to love or be a Human Resources disaster. Through it all, she balances her compassion, discipline, and wisdom with the needs of the children in her school.
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“I combined traits of more than one person for several characters, although I did have a principal once who may resemble the one who got a little too friendly in the book,” said Hirsch, who was at Browns Valley for 17 years. “Similar to the character in the book, I started as a vice principal.”
The book is a fictionalized account pulled from many actual experiences, although it’s difficult to characterize.
“It’s a novel, but it’s the closest I’ll ever come to writing a memoir," Hirsch said. "Writing has always been easy for me. Although I worked on my high school literary magazine, I never felt I had creativity until I took a few creative writing classes at Napa Valley College.”
“I like to tell factual stories through fiction. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors who does that. Her books have humor as well as sad material.”
Hirsch has written other books. “My Leash on Life, Foxy’s View of the World from a Foot Off the Ground,” was her dog’s 2013 memoir about the illness and passing of Hirsch’s husband. In 2018, she published “Leavings,” a collection of poetry, and “Laugh and Live, Advice for Aging Boomers,” humorous essays about aging.
After growing up and attending college on the East Coast, she worked in San Francisco and knew the Bay Area was where she wanted to be. She taught first in Pleasanton as a resource specialist teaching special education. She became a middle school vice principal in Castro Valley and then an elementary school principal in Fremont. Hirsch loved visiting the Napa Valley and applied for the principal position at Browns Valley Elementary. She stayed at the school for 13 years before retiring.
Hirsch was one of the founding members of the Napa Valley branch of the California Writers Club, which currently has more than 20 members. She has two writing critique groups that meet weekly to share what they’ve written.
“I’d share half a chapter of the book as I was writing it, so as not to overwhelm them. From start to finish, the book took two and a half years to write, and there were 20 versions of it.”
Having many ideas from her groups was great, Hirsch said, but it wasn’t always easy to sort through them. From the various comments and suggestions offered, she altered her book only with the notes that stayed true to her vision of how the book should read.
Although she’d written professionally for years as a guest blogger about both education and food, written articles for the Napa Valley Register and other publications, including travel and poetry pieces, finding a publisher for this book was another hurdle. How did she do it?
“My biggest challenge with 'Schooled' was that there were no other novels like it. I knew what I wanted this to be and some of the feedback I received was that this wasn’t the format for a novel. My concept for the book was to tell an entertaining story about one year of this person’s life. I wanted to educate people about what goes into being an administrator. The advice was a good learning experience for me, but I knew what I wanted to do.”
“I hired out portions of the book for cover design, a copy editor, and a developmental editor. Editors and designers charge a fee for different levels and lengths of a book.”
Hirsch says her next book will be a collection of short stories.
“It won’t be another novel. I had fun writing what I remember, but one was sufficient.”
Hirsch will discuss “Schooled” with Napa County Superintendent of Schools, Barbara Nemko, during a virtual author event offered by Bookmine on January 13 at 7 p.m. Details are on the bookstore’s website (www.Napabookmine.com).
She anticipates having a lot to talk about with Nemko, as “Schooled” details the day-to-day activities of a vice-principal of a middle school. While many of the events are amusing, some of the interactions are poignant, too.
“I anticipate reading a short passage from the book, maybe about special education and the challenges it presents and then discussing it with Barbara. Another area I’m interested in is project-based learning, rather than just reading a classroom lesson.”
Right now, she’s educating herself on how to advertise on Amazon and writes about that adventure on her website, along with tips to help new authors (www.lenorehirsch.com).
“What I enjoy is mentoring others.”
Once an educator, always one.
A virtual conversation
Join local author Lenore Hirsch in conversation with Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barb Nemko for a virtual event discussing "Schooled: Confessions of a Rookie Vice Principal on Thursday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. Register at eventbrite.com (https://tinyurl.com/y4by24w6).
This is a free event. If you are able, a donation of $5 is suggested to help cover costs. For questions, email email@example.com.