McCurdy retires from SHS

Teaching biology at Salem High School has allotted Greg McCurdy a lot of opportunities over the years. Read a few of the highlights in The Salem Leader, July 21 edition available for purchase online at salemleader.com or in the LPC office, 117 E. Walnut St.

 

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Teaching biology at Salem High School has allotted Greg McCurdy a lot of opportunities over the years. He first came to Salem in 1976 to interview with high school principal, Max Bedwell. “I can remember the interview, almost like it happened yesterday,” McCurdy said. “It was one of the key landmark days of my life.”

It was hot when he walked into the school, the only air conditioning being in the office area. Mrs. XXX Barrett greeted him and made him comfortable. McCurdy remembers, “She was dressed to kill, as she was every day, and very, very professional.”

Paul Scifres, who was vice principal at the time, also joined in on the interview. Both Bedwell and Scifres were familiar with McCurdy from his days of running track at Floyd Central. Actually, he didn’t just run track, he excelled at it.

“My senior year in high school, I was probably the fastest sprinter south of Seymour,” McCurdy explained. He had faced off with Salem’s fastest sprinter, at the time, Mike Cook numerous times. “Mike was fast in the 100 meters, but I cleaned his clock at any distance after that.” The two remain friends and often tease each other about those days. “Mike also played football. He was a big guy and he sounded like a locomotive when he ran.”

The interview went very well, he toured the building and before he returned home to Clarksville, he had received a phone call offering him the biology teaching job and the track coach position. “Max told me, ‘We are hiring a biology teacher, not a track coach. When you want to step down from coaching and concentrate on the classroom, you just let me know.’” McCurdy was track coach for 10 seasons.

The drive from Clarksville was tedious, but at the time, both he and his wife, Cindy, had aging parents who lived near them and they needed to be available to care for them, so moving to Salem was not an option. Plus his wife worked in Jeffersonville and he did not want her to be on the road.

McCurdy said, “I thought to myself, ‘I’ll wait ‘til something closer comes up and then I will eliminate the drive.’” But after teaching Biology 1 and 2 to college bound students and basically being able to put together his own curriculum, he couldn’t leave. “My first year was just wonderful. That first class I taught had eight 4.0 students in the graduating class.” 

The parents were wonderful, too. During parents night, he said they were so gracious. They were glad to have a biology teacher that actually taught labs and did not simply teach from the book and lecture the students. “I was treated like royalty everywhere I went,” he said. “I finally threw my hands up in the air and said, ‘I can’t leave this. I’d be crazy to.’”

Not only did he broaden the students outlook on biology, he benefited greatly in his professional life. A fellow science teacher, John Jones insisted that he attend a HASTI (Hoosier Association of Science Teachers, Inc.) conference. He was sold after attending the first conference.

“I continued to go to HASTI every year with Max Bedwell’s blessing,” McCurdy said. He often came back with lab materials and always with new teaching ideas. 

At one point, McCurdy decided he needed to give back to the organization. He started presenting and sharing at the annual conventions. One particular discussion that landed him further accolades was the Brock Creek fish project, where he and his students had been identifying and recording the species found in the local creek. He landed the approval of Dr. Claude Baker with the Department of Natural Resources, who took McCurdy under his wing.

He was placed on the program committee for HASTI and eventually landed the role of vice-president which carried with it a three year commitment. The first year as VP, the second as president and the third as the conference chair for planning the convention, which averaged 3,000 attendees each year. “It opened a bunch of doors for me,” McCurdy said.

One summer, he was granted through the American Physiological Society, the opportunity to work with Dr. John C. Falcone at the University of Louisville Medical School. “I was one of 17 from across the US to be chosen,” McCurdy said. “It was quite a learning experience and I was honored to be a part of it,”

One of the requirements from this experience was to develop a project after studying the respiratory system. He designed a devise to measure lung capacity and out of the 17 projects presented was chosen to share it with a variety of research scientists, teachers and college professors at a conference in Washington D.C. 

While in D.C., he had a chance encounter with Harald zur Hausen, the 2008 Nobel Piece Prize winner in physiology. “Things like that kept falling into my lap,” McCurdy said.

He and fellow teacher, Carl Mitchell, waited out and met in a small group with Dr. William DeVries, who performed the first artificial heart transplant. “Carl and I held steady (while waiting for the doctor to finish with a surgery to speak at a conference),” McCurdy explained. “He finally made it to the conference, around 5 p.m. and there we about five or six people remaining.”

They moved to a coffee shop where DeVries told them, “I had a teacher that inspired me. I’m here as long as you want me.”

He has also talked to astronauts and many, many scientists over the years. “I was able to come back to Salem High School and talk to the students about these encounters,” McCurdy said.

He credits his teaching career to one of his college professors at IUS. McCurdy originally did not intend to teach, he was getting a degree in biology to become a medical technician. He was one internship away from realizing that dream when he was struck by a comment made to him by professor Carl Christensen, who taught one of his lab classes. “He told me, ‘You learn by doing, not by watching.’”

The more he thought about it, the more inclined he was to teach. He contacted John Moody, at IUS, about getting his teaching credentials. Within six months and a student teaching stint at New Albany, he was ready to teach. He credits those two men and his microbiology teacher, Galen Renwich, for being a huge inspiration to him.  “One night changed my life,” McCurdy said.

His work and dedication did not go unnoticed. Dr. Lynn Reed, former Salem superintendant, nominated McCurdy for Indiana Teacher of the Year. “I was thrilled to death to receive that honor,” he said. He also been recognized the Washington County Soil and Water District numerous times. “It means so much be recognized by people I see every day for things that I have tried to do.”

McCurdy was also able to express his creative side with his involvement in the guitar club and the Bohemian Supper Club. The supper club was a choir performance, dreamed up by Bill Spencer-Pierce to showcase the talented singers he had in choir. Performers either performed karaoke style or were accompanied by Spencer-Pierce on the piano. After McCurdy attended one of the first Bohemian Supper Clubs, he approached Spencer-Pierce about forming a house band for the show. McCurdy was already working with the guitar club after school and knew their were a lot of good musicians around the school.

The first year that the house band joined, the theme was “B” side of Abbey Road by the Beetles, which was right up McCurdy’s alley. It was a success and quickly word got around until another night was added and then another. “This past year, we added a Sunday matinee,” McCurdy said. It was an exhausting endeavor, he said, after teaching all day and setting up and tearing down each night but McCurdy said, “Personally, it was tremendous experience.”

The kids were always surprised to see that side of the teacher. He enjoyed interacting with them on a different level. One year the theme was the 1970’s and McCurdy grew his hair out and it has been long ever since. At the end of what was a very successful night of shows, McCurdy was so moved by the experience that he wrote the students a letter. “I told them, ‘you are not just creating music, you are creating memories.’”

The guitar club was an after school program initially designed in 1990 as a way to keep kids involved in something productive at the school. Although sometimes the numbers were small, McCurdy felt like it was a niche for some students. “It was their fit. A place to belong,” he said.

McCurdy was also able to attach a science spin to the club when he secured a STEM grant for the members to build guitars. He was inspired by some kits for unfinished guitars he had seen at a music store in Louisville. The project would involve learning to solder, honing wood crafting skills, precise measuring and the physics of where to attach bridges for the best sound and understanding how amplifiers worked with the guitar. 

After the build was complete, McCurdy wanted the students to be able to keep their guitars, but first they needed to work for ownership by doing supervised community projects. “Cameron Foutch and his dad, Alan, who stepped in as our advisor, were invaluable in this project,” McCurdy said. Alan is an amateur Luthier (someone who makes guitars.)

Now that he is retiring, fellow teacher, Matt Atkins is stepping in to continue with the club. 

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, there was no fanfare for the retiring teacher who spent, 43 years at SHS, but McCurdy’s daughter, Whitney, made sure that he received some type of recognition. She mustered up past students and colleagues of her dad to send him letters and emails to honor his retirement. “I have so many students over my career who have done great things,” McCurdy said. “My career has been measured by how well my students have done.”

His fellow teachers have played a big role in his life, as well. He credits, fellow science teacher, John Calhoun as on of the most influential people in his life. “We have been an awesome team for 30 years. We feed off each other’s strengths,” McCurdy said. “That is one of the big things I am going to miss.”

McCurdy asks that anyone who would want to honor him, in any way, consider a donation to the Gregory W. McCurdy Scholarship fund at the Washington County Community Foundation, P.O. Box 50, Salem, IN 47167. “This honors my students and is my way to give back the Salem community and Salem High School,” McCurdy said.

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