By Academy Middle School Assistant Principal John McCloskey
I worked closely with Les Cooperman for more than 20 years. He was at Gulliver for almost twice as long – some 39 years – as a math teacher, coach and activities director. But Les was more than a teaching colleague, coach and activities director; he was also a friend, a mentor and a larger- than-life figure. Les Cooperman was Gulliver. Every day, we all felt his presence at school. He started the day with morning announcements, then he might lead a pep rally later that day or be the master of ceremonies for the Halloween Costume Contest or Veteran's Day Assembly. The next day, he might organize and attend a local field trip or speak to students about their upcoming overnight grade level trips; after school and into the evening, he might tutor math. The day after that, he might meet with students about the Just Say No to Drugs Club or join the students in the Ping-Pong Club. Everything Les did was designed to make the Gulliver School experience more enjoyable for students. To Les, it was always about the students.
One of his legacies at Gulliver was planning and organizing the overnight class trips. Les understood the value in bringing students together in a setting away from campus: The students got to see each other and their chaperones in a different light, and the chaperones, in turn, saw the students in a different light. The end result was an increase in school spirit and a newly energized and united student body.
Everyone has a Les Cooperman story. Some students will tell you about the fun they had hanging out with Mr. Cooperman in his office before school or during lunch. Other students will talk about the special moments they spent with Mr. Cooperman on the trips: ice skating or a snowball fight in Washington, D.C.; watching the fireworks display at Disney World; taking in a Broadway play in New York (Mr. Cooperman's hometown) or going bowling in St. Augustine or Washington, D.C. Les was a kid himself and relished the time he spent with young people on those trips.
The adults will tell you how Les mentored them on all matters pertaining to school and life. We marveled at his ability to effectively organize anything and everything. We also had a lot of fun with Les over the years – on campus, off campus and, of course, on those overnight trips. He loved to joke around and surprise you when you least expected it. On the sixth grade trip, for instance, we stayed in cabins, with a shower area separate from the cabins, about 50 feet away. After I showered one night, I opened the shower curtain and my towel and clothes were gone. Gee, I wonder who snuck into the shower area and took my towel and clothes? Several times over the years in Washington D.C., Les would use the radio to call me and the students on my bus over to a certain area on the Mall, where he and the students on his bus lay waiting with a barrage of snowballs.
Once, when we returned home after the Washington, D.C., trip on separate flights, I received a call, upon landing, from one of the chaperones, telling me Mr. Cooperman had been detained by TSA agents and I needed to come to the back of the airport to pick him up. I believed it; he got me hook, line and sinker on that one.
My favorite memories of Les on the trips, though, are of time spent just shooting the breeze with him late at night in the hotel, watching a college basketball game (more than likely the 'Canes) or some other sporting event, and talking and laughing about how the day went and what the next day would bring. Les always talked about the next day, namely planning for it and being ready for it so that we could make the most of it and enjoy it.
Students wrote letters honoring Mr. Cooperman, and I'd like to share a few passages:
"Every day, Mr. Cooperman's goal was to make the students happy. He always made me laugh and cheered me up when I was down. I know he would want everybody to be happy and support each other at this time, just like he always did."
"Mr. Cooperman always made me laugh with his jokes. I will never forget the fun trips we went on. He will forever be in our hearts."
"You always made me smile. I remember when I was in fifth grade you pulled the 'there is something in your ice cream' trick, and I remember having ice cream all over me. You brought us students so much joy. We love you forever and always. My heart goes out to your family."
"My favorite memory of Mr. Cooperman [is] on the bus to St. Augustine, when he showed me pictures of his family and he told me who everyone was. He also told stories and jokes, and we had a great time."
"Although he is gone, Mr. Cooperman will always be here with us, on our school trips, in our classes and when we are in his office."
On our recent seventh grade overnight trip to Central Florida, Les Cooperman was indeed "with us," no doubt taking great satisfaction in once again bringing the students together in a location away from campus – fostering, developing and nurturing school spirit, pride, unity and respect. A school can achieve nothing more noble than that!
As one of the students mentioned, Les was proud of and loved his family dearly – his wife Susie and his children Jeff and Becky. I, and the entire Gulliver community, offer our deepest condolences.
Les, Go Raiders and Go 'Canes. Love you. You are always with us.
To view our #TeamCoop photo gallery, click here.
Please share your special memories of Les Cooperman on social media using the hashtag #TeamCoop