School administrator surprised with recognition for assisting teacher in AF Reserve
By RAFAEL GUERRERO | The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill. | Published: February 16, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — In the six years he has taught at School District U46, William Fleischer has had to find a way to balance his work as an educator with the demands of a military career.
The Larkin High School health teacher is a major in the Air Force Reserve and has been deployed for military service on multiple occasions, leaving his classes to substitute teachers until he returns.
It would be stressful if not for the help of Melanie Meidel, U46's assistant superintendent for special projects, Fleischer said. She's worked with him over the years to coordinate his replacements in the classroom, secure teaching work upon his return, and facilitate his transition from military to teaching and back, he said.
"She was willing to help me come up with a plan together, not have me figure it out on my own," said Fleischer, who is primary instructor for officer training in Montgomery, Ala.
Meidel's willingness to accommodate Fleischer's military duties prompted him to nominate her for recognition from the U.S. Department of Defense's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program. Last week, Meidel was surprised with a "Patriotic Employer" award.
The plaque from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program recognized Meidel "for contributing to national security and protecting liberty and freedom by supporting employee participation in America's National Guard and Reserve Force."
"I was totally surprised, flabbergasted by all that happened," said Meidel, whose work with Fleischer was done when she was U46's assistant superintendent for human resources.
More than 10,000 such awards were presented to supervisors last year, a spokesman for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program said. They recognize people who have assisted National Guard or Reserve members by creating flexible schedules, allowing for time off before and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence.
Fleischer said he submitted a nomination for Meidel last year out of gratitude for her efforts to accommodate his civilian and military duties. Once he received confirmation that she was going to receive it, he plotted to surprise her Feb. 8 while she was meeting with other U46 officials.
"I wanted to recognize you," Fleischer said during the presentation, joking that he initially "wanted to get you a lot of money. ... I wanted to get you a car."
Fleischer said not all human resources directors are willing to let an active-duty officer leave for extended periods of time and then return to their jobs.
Meidel said she has never questioned that she needed to help Fleischer.
"It's always important to support our military servicemen and women," she said. "Sometimes there can be glitches here and there, but the benefits (Fleischer) can provide to the students when he's in the classroom would be hard to match."
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