Did this man teach you how to drive? Mick McDonald has taught driver's ed since 1968, mostly at Ballard High School. He's finally retiring this year, after Seattle Public Schools pulled the program.
End of an era for driver's ed
When Stanley "Mick" McDonald started teaching driver's ed in 1968, cell phones were nonexistent, windows were rolled open by hand and class only cost $25.
Now, Forty-four years later, McDonald's long career finally came to an end when Seattle Public Schools cut funding for the driver's ed program. Last Friday, after interviewing with the Ballard News-Tribune, McDonald returned his training car -- a Chevy Cavalier -- after years of storing it in the parking lot of his condominium. It was a bittersweet moment, not just for him, but also for everyone he had taught throughout the years.
You see, as the first and last teacher of the Ballard High School driver's ed program, he has undoubtedly taught most of the Ballard community how to drive. It seems he can't go anywhere without someone recognizing him, whether it be a trip to the grocery store or a walk around the neighborhood.
For McDonald, the timing couldn't have been better. He said he was ready to retire, anyway, and was excited to start traveling and going on more cruises with his wife. Besides, people might have had growing concern that a 73-year-old was teaching their kids to drive, he joked of himself.
Still, he was concerned for the future of driver's ed, which will now only be offered through private ventures. While private schools have not generally charged a higher rate than public schools in the past, McDonald feels that without public schools to act as a form of competition, costs will skyrocket.
"I would predict in 5 years it would be $1,000," he said.
This, he said, could put proper training far out of reach for many kids. The $599 price tag at BHS, even with scholarships to help pay, had already turned many prospective students away.
"It's going to be tough. These kids, some of them are going to drive regardless, license or no license, no insurance probably," he said. "And that's not going to be good, because that's the age group that's more vulnerable."
Furthermore, while there are many well qualified private schools, without a background check, many shadier schools have made their way through, as well. One need only remember the example of the Diamond Driving School chain, which provided false information on license applications at 41 schools and had unqualified trainers teaching teenagers how to drive.
Back in the day, though, public school driver's ed programs were the place to be. The classes were full, McDonald said, with 7,000 Seattle Public Schools students testing their mettle behind the wheel each year.
That was when the state still subsidized the school programs. That stopped about ten years ago, and now all the school programs have fallen by the wayside. McDonald said that the Seattle Public School's retained some of the last ones from the old movement to provide affordable training to all kids.
McDonald is still confused by why the program was cut. The school's reasoning, he said, was that the program did not further the goal of readying kids for college, so, in a time of having to tighten the budgetary belt, it had to go.
However, McDonald said that the reasoning didn't quite add up. The program is one of few that operates in the black, he said, because parents pay an adequate fee to get their children in, taking care of overhead costs.
"I honestly feel it was a strategy move of the school district to make a sacrificial lamb out of the program," he said. "It could still be going."
McDonald wasn't always such a driving safety expert. When he first took the driver's test back in high school, he found it to be a little bit more difficult than expected.
"To be honest, I thought I was pretty good like most boys do," he said. "I couldn't wait to get my driver's license, and when I got it I failed my road test the first time"
But even then, he said that he was always a conscientious driver and never played any games. In fact, in all the time he has been teaching others to drive, he had only gotten into two accidents, both fender benders, neither of which were the students' fault.
In addition, he has been in just one car crash himself, when a woman side swiped him while she was running a red light at an intersection. No one was hurt. He managed to make positive of his accident and turn it into a lesson for students. He would tell students, "Going through an intersection is like playing with a loaded gun -- you better be on your toes."
When asked what advice he would give students, McDonald said that more than anything, a vehicle should be handled with care.
"A car is a wonderful tool, but it's like a knife: It can be a useful tool, but it can also be a deadly tool," he said. "So treat it with respect and don't put yourself in a scenario where you can risk it."
McDonald said he would miss the class and had a lot of good memories. Had he not been forced to retire, he said, more than likely he would've continued teaching.
"I really have enjoyed it immensely. You really get to know these kids on a personal level, you kind of become not just a driver's ed teacher … maybe a little bit of a father figure for them, maybe a little bit of a mentor."