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It’s About the Students:


The Life of Frances “Fran” Laplaca (1935 -2014) by


Dr. Ronald Sherwin The political, economic, and social pressure placed on


today’s educators have many veteran teachers questioning their career choice, and novice and pre-service teachers rethinking their futures. These talented musicians wonder if the licensure hurdles are worth jumping; if the arts really matter in their communities; and if the general struggle of an educator is worth it? The answer to these questions was easy for one Vermont music educator: and her answer was “Yes!” Frances “Fran” LaPlaca lost her battle with cancer


December 21st at the age of 79. She served the people of Vermont for 55 years and retired just six months before her death. Patience and Determination Fran’s desire to pursue a life in music began in the


second grade in Albany, NY when she decided to become a pianist. Her family was poor and it was three years before they could even afford to buy her a used one. During this time she kept her dream alive, and once she had her beloved piano, it remained with her the rest of her life. Seeking to continue her music education and make teaching her career, she was accepted to Ithaca College, but was again called upon to show patience and determination as she waited and worked for one year in order to save enough money to enroll. Once there the challenges continued as she worked a part-time job and sought scholarships in order to continue her studies. Then in 1955, she suffered a pianist’s nightmare: a major injury to her right hand. Undaunted, she continued her studies by focusing on left-hand piano literature until she recovered. Was all of this worth it in her pursuit of her dream of teaching music? Fran always believed it was and her story is one that should inspire and motivate our students today. Students First Once in the classroom (first teaching a combination of


physical and music education) Fran quickly created a community of learning where the student came first. She was known for greeting her charges with a smile, a sympathetic ear, and true respect: a level of respect that was returned to her in equal portion. This is evidenced by a story told by Fran’s colleague from a nearby school who happened to hear her explain the concept of honor to a student who was to take an unsupervised test. Fran explained that honor was: “being self- motivated to give ones very best in all things and above all no compromising of the truth; being able to absolutely live with ones conscience.” And in a response so characteristic of who Mrs. LaPlaca was to her students, the student replied: “I get it…Like you! I give my word it will be my own work.” Equally important to understanding Fran is realizing


that she saw putting students first to mean setting aside her personal plans, goals, and desires when a student was in need.


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She recognized that such dedication could mean going outside of her comfort zone. Stories abound of her willingness to change her personal plans to help with after school activities, loaning personal items for theater events (even allowing a beloved religious icon to be used as a prop), and adapting to meet the latest educational approaches or musical fashions. And even in her later years, as technology began to change rapidly, she grew with those changes and could often be found at her computer working with digital information and learning the latest data system employed by her district. Ron Ryan, her superintendent, once described her as “exhibit[ing] the energy and enthusiasm of her first day on the job.” A very telling and inspiring statement that serves as a model to all of us when we find ourselves questioning the continuous calls to adapt our teaching to the times. Giving to the Community The life of a music educator is rarely limited to the


classroom, but in many ways Fran’s work in the community was as active as her work in school. Married to a fellow educator and coach (Thomas LaPlaca), mother to four children in the school system where she taught, and living near school, it was natural for her to be involved after the 3:00 bell. But her efforts went beyond the school to include her church, the Sicilian American Society, the American Legion, and even working to raise money for The American Cancer Society. One lasting and extra-curricular/community initiative is the community chorus she was petitioned to form and direct, and for which she refused compensation.


“This is a way for me to


give something back to the profession and community I love so much.” Giving back was a theme in her life. Legacy


Although she did not like to be publicly praised,


preferring the light to be on her students, the educational community she served for so many years has recognized Fran for her many achievements. She was named Outstanding Educator by the University of Vermont, Educator of the Year by 21st Century Publications, and joined her husband as a member of Vermont Principals Hall of Fame. However, to anyone who met Mrs. LaPlaca, it is clear that the legacy she would be most proud of would be a world where the arts are supported by each community, are taught by dedicated teachers, and where students can grow up to be loving and productive members of their schools, towns, and cities. A world where classrooms are filled with teachers sharing the spirit of Fran.


1. Joe Carroll, “Super Senior:Fran LaPlaca.” WCAX News, April 24, 2014 (accessed July 28, 2015). 2. Vicki Matteson, personal correspondence, July 28, 2015. 3. Brett Blanchard, personal correspondence, August 30, 2015. 4. Maureen Forrest, “50 Years in Music Ed.” IC View, May 2, 2008, http://www.ithaca.edu/icview/stories/50-years-in-music- ed-3001/#.VfhQFnt12m4 (accessed July 28, 2015). 5. Ibid


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