By Sarah Champagne
Citizen Chronicle, Managing Editor
Dr. Pricilla Gimas is a local leader and educator. She currently serves on the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen and she is an adjunct instructor with Quinsigamond Community College. She also teaches ESL classes for the Worcester County Action Council. She is a leader in her church, deeply involved with her Greek Orthodox faith and seeks to give back to her local community.
Overall, Gimas is a contented woman who has accomplished a lot. But she has been through some trying personal and professional times on her way to her current position in life. Her memoir, Lights That Never Dim, released in April and available on Amazon, relates the story of a particularly dark and challenging time.
Twenty years ago, Gimas was a high school history teacher in a local school district, which she declines to identify. She had a great deal of success in the position, receiving excellent performance reviews and creating connections with her students. However, after about a decade of a fulfilling career teaching in the district, she found herself suddenly and surprisingly fired from her position, after a series of events that she describes as motivated by personal vendettas, interpersonal politics and unethical leadership.
It was at this time that she began to think in depth about ethical behavior in the workplace, how a person can maintain their own ethical values and how leaders are made. After years of arbitration and legal battles, Gimas says she was found to have been wrongly terminated, and she was cleared of the allegations that prompted her termination. But the personal, professional, financial and emotional toll of the years of arbitration was almost too much to bear at times.
“You think you are a loser and you are trying to find a rationale, and you can’t. It’s like a grieving process. Then you reach the point where anger sets in, and you start to fight back. But you don’t have that fight in the beginning. You are just totally blown away,” Gimas recalls. “There is a sense of embarrassment – ‘how did this happen?’”
Gimas has learned from talking to others that many working adults have had to tolerate unethical behavior or situations that make them question their own profession, in order to stay employed.
“I know many people who work in education, healthcare, municipalities, and they do get discouraged,” remarks Gimas. “They say, ‘Look, I’m doing the best that I can. I’m doing my job as I am supposed to. But this is allowed, and this other thing is allowed. Why am I bothering?’”
“And so, this is the frustration that I think is out in the employment world today,” she reflects.
Gimas had plenty of time during the legal battle to reflect on ethical behavior in the workplace, how a person can maintain their own ethical values and what makes a good leader. Gimas felt that unethical leadership had been at the root of her wrongful termination.
“What I went through prompted me to go for a doctorate because I needed something positive in my life. Specifically, it prompted me to study if graduate schools prepare administrators to be ethical,” she explains. “And the bottom line is that they don’t.”
Gimas says that her own graduate program at the University of Hartford provided a deep dive into ethical examinations of leadership. However, she can’t say the same of many of the graduate programs she examined. Gimas reports that while many graduate programs had a single ethics course, there was very little meaningful integration of ethics into the overall course of study.
While employees in any industry may make ethical decisions on a regular basis, Gimas would argue that the leadership of any system is the key to creating an ethical environment. She refers to a saying that she remembers from her Greek heritage and upbringing; “A fish smells from the head” – meaning that leadership sets culture.
“Employers today get the employees they deserve,” she comments. “If the employer shows integrity and an ethical compass, then that message resonates to the employee. But if your supervisor, or your boss, show that they’ll play games or they’ll do unethical things and ask you to keep it quiet, well then what message does that send to the employee?”
Gimas compares the act of living one’s own values and acting ethically to a gymnast’s balance beam.
“Individuals try to walk that straight line. However, on their periphery are choices pulling them in different directions. The balance is not only walking the ethical path but knowing how do discern your peripheral temptations,” she reflects.
As for the title of the memoir, the meaning is a bit of a surprise at the end of the book for readers. Suffice it to say that Gimas got through her period of professional crisis with the help of loved ones and close friends. A good friend of hers also designed the cover of the book, a simple but striking black background with a few twinkling stars.
“Alberto Mercado designed my cover. He’s an artist and an author himself. I told him what I wanted, gave him the title which he loved, and I said, ‘This is what I am thinking – go for it,’” she explains. “And he came up with that design. And I absolutely love it. I think its elegant.”
Gimas has found that many people can relate to the type of ethical and professional questioning that she describes in her book.
“Everyone who reads this book has something that has happened in their personal life or professional life that has had them question their values, their ethics and what they truly believe in,” she says.
Gimas will appear at the Sturbridge Coffee House, 407B Main Street in Sturbridge, for a book signing Saturday, June 23 at 10 a.m. She will also present at Jacob Edwards Library in Southbridge Wednesday, July 18 at 3 p.m. For more about her book, you can visit the website for the book, or you can purchase the memoir on Amazon, where it is listed for sale.