Excerpt from Michael Plaksin, President of the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation
Above the desk in my home office I have a photograph and certificate that were presented to me in April of 1996. During that time, I was the Vice President of Sales for Packard Bell Computers. Intel and Microsoft were creating computer labs at the schools in their home cities of San Jose and Seattle. Almost no school had PC’s in those days because of the prohibitive cost of a single PC (somewhere around $1,300.00 to $1,800.00 each with monitor).
I was out running one morning and the thought crossed my mind about what technology was being used at Wyoming Valley West. I called a teacher I had remained friendly with for many years and asked her that very question. Mary Jean Tarantini told me that they only had one PC and it might not be working. Through most of the years of 1994 and 1995, I worked with Mary Jean to make sure that Wyoming Valley West would not be without computers. We worked closely together to make sure that the computers that I provided would have a place for the students to use them. Mary Jean consulted with the school and was able to get them to create a special place in the library where the computers would be made available to each and every student in the high school.
It was in April of 1996 when I went back to visit the school. Mr. Andy Marko walked me to the library and asked me a question. “Michael,” he said “do you know something that Wyoming Valley West has never done?” I couldn’t think of what that could be as we walked towards the library. “We have never named anything after anyone.” He said. I thought about that as we continued our walk and thought that he was right. I had never seen anything named after anyone in any of the school buildings. “You’re right.” I said. “I actually have never seen anything named before.”
As we approached the library and he held the door open for me he said: “Until now.” It was then that I saw my name in bold letters across the wall of the library. I was touched beyond words. “Thank you,” I said. Andy simply said back to me, “No. Thank you” and we walked into the library and met a number of the students who were already using the computers.
After we had the chance to talk to the students, we posed for a photograph that is still in the library. Andy Marko, Mary Jean Tarantini and my Principal and friend Benjamin J. Davis are just a few of the people that helped with the creation of the history of this technology center.
Several years later, I was back at the high school and Mary Jean was planning to retire. She told me
that there was as student that wanted to interview me for the school newspaper. I told her that it would be my pleasure. I sat with the student as we discussed a number of questions about how the
technology center was originally created. I also spoke with him about a recent donation made by
Dr. John Kinney who was following up on what he said “was a wonderful accomplishment on my
part.” At the end of the interview the student asked me if he could say something to me. I told him to
please feel free to talk with me about anything. He said that he and his family could not afford to have a computer at his home. The student went on to say that he was going to graduate this year and after
four years of using the technology center he said that he would not have been able to have access to
a computer if the center didn’t exist. He stood up, we shook hands and I wished him the best of luck.
As he left the room and headed back to the office to meet Mary Jean, I realized how fortunate I was to have been able to do exactly what I had hoped to accomplish. This was one student that I had the chance to meet in person. I realized that there were hundreds of other students that had the opportunity to use thetechnology center that I would never have the chance to meet. I hope that each of them had the same positive experience that this student had. It gave me an idea to try and continue to expand upon what was started just a few years ago.
I mentioned that Mary Jean was planning to retire. She met with me and wanted to make sure that I had a contact to the high school so that when I called from California or came back to the Valley I would have someone to help move the technology center along. It was at that time that I was introduced to Dana Mascioli. Over the years she has been such a dedicated teacher who wanted each of her students to succeed and achieve the highest level of growth and education they could accomplish.
As time went on and our conversations continued, Dana began to introduce me to a number of her best and most dedicated students. In meeting them I had the opportunity to learn from them as they hopefully had the chance to learn something from me. I had the opportunity to meet Randy Stark when he was in high school. I kept in contact with him as he matriculated through school and became the successful business professional he is today. He is now a founding member of the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation Board.
Dana and I continued to visit and talk about how a foundation would be a great asset for the school. I would come back and speak to each new Principal to discuss how we could do something to make things better for the students at the school. On one of those trips, I met with then Principal Erin
Keating – who is now a member of the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation board. She told me to come to school at 8AM (don’t forget that’s 5AM California time) to meet someone that was interested in also creating a foundation. That was when I met Elizabeth Dal Santo – now the Executive Director of the WVW board.
A few months later I received a call from Chuck Suppon, Erin and Beth. We discussed that I would be coming back to the high school and that we should start planning to put together a number of people for this new board. At the time, I called several of my successful and community oriented classmates whom I graduated with from Wyoming Valley West. I made special requests asking them to dedicate their time and expertise to become board members for a brand new educational foundation.
My good friends, Jason Messinger and Ed Sampiero, were kind enough to respond to my request to join the team. Mary Jean was also kind enough to accept my invitation to join the board as well. It was at that meeting that the foundation was officially created. I was fortunate enough that day to be elected as President. After that, I nominated and we elected Mary Jean as the Vice President in a landslide vote! During the next several months several more of the people I graduated with joined the board – Jay Kramer, Larry and Sally Schneider. David Tarantini heard about what we were doing and was eager to accept an invitation to become a board member. Joe Butkiewicz and Ted Poggi, two local business professionals joined because of their commitment to the community as well as their desire to help the students of WVW. I was able to convince a successful author of children’s books that attended Syracuse University with Jay Kramer and myself, Randa Awn Handler. Then Lee Duda, who had Dana Mascioli as a teacher, realized that this was a great opportunity to give back to his high school.
Dana Mascioli, one of the instructional technologists of the school system, was kind enough to be the conduit between the board and the needs of the school district.
I realize that the telling of this story took a little longer than expected, but there is an amazingly rich and diverse history to the founding of the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation. It is comprised of many people that I knew would be dynamic as a team with such an important vision of an educational future. I am so fortunate to be the head of a team that is comprised of an outstanding group of professionals that have accomplished goals and objectives about which ma
ny people just dream about. I have been honored to have known and worked with several members of the team, in some cases spanning multiple decades. Some of this new team are my more recent business associates that I truly look forward to working with. The exciting thing is that every member of this educational foundation team that I brought together is committed to the success of what actually started over twenty years ago.
Although the process of creating the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundatio
n formally began several months ago, it has actually taken a long time and a great effort to reach this critical and pivotal point in the history of Wyoming Valley West. The next amazing step of our journey is truly just beginning. I invite you all to join us in helping to create an exciting and dynamic history that we look forward to developing and expanding over the course of the next twenty years.
-Michael Plaksin, President of the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation