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Las Vegas high school teacher found calling as educator late in life

Updated February 20, 2018 - 5:11 pm

Marc Hechter brought real-world experience to the classroom, and he did so in a bow tie.

The Palo Verde High School social studies teacher delved into education late in life, after careers in the public and private sectors. Yet it’s there that his friends and family say he had his biggest effect.

Students and colleagues of Hechter, who died Feb. 12 at age 65 after battling cancer, remember a man who served as a mentor to fellow teachers and inspired young minds.

Hechter, who taught a range of courses at Palo Verde for more than a decade, wore many hats before turning to teaching. He previously worked for Clark County and as a lobbyist in the Legislature before arriving as a full-time educator at Palo Verde in 2001.

“I think he wanted to give students a perspective, having come from the private sector, having had the experience,” said his wife, Mamie.

Hechter taught a variety of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses in government, politics and economics.

‘Outside the textbook’

“One of the things that he brought to the table, which was great, was that this was a career change for him,” said Patrick Vlaming, a former Palo Verde teacher who previously headed the social studies department. “He had a lot of really good firsthand knowledge about how government works that was outside of the textbook.”

Hechter and English Department Chair Amy Reed began the monumental seven-year task of introducing the school’s rigorous IB program back around 2007.

“Not only was he an amazing teacher to our students, but he was also a pedagogical leader to the school,” Reed said. “He was very into training the staff in different educational techniques and theories.”

Known for wearing bow ties every Wednesday, Hechter served as an inspiration to many of his former students who pursued higher education.

Jessica Kurr, a 2007 graduate who had Hechter as a teacher in AP economics and AP government, said he helped her see the qualities in herself that enabled her to earn a bachelor’s degree and, eventually, the first doctorate in her family.

“His motivation, enthusiasm, quirkiness and care for his students is what drove me to study politics and economics as well as ultimately become an instructor,” Kurr, who is now a postdoctoral teaching fellow at Pennsylvania State University, said in an email. “Thanks to Marc, I learned a lot about those intersections and formed a deep love for the two.”

Delighted by ‘surprise’ toilet-papering

His impact spread beyond the classroom to the soccer field, where Hechter coached the girls team.

“I loved dropping into coach’s classroom, seeing him around campus and seeing him at daily practices,” Frances Finley, a 2003 Palo Verde graduate, said in an email. “I’ll never forget how much he loved when we’d ‘surprise’ him by toilet-papering his house.”

Hechter also revisited the Legislature during his time as a teacher, serving on the task force on K-12 public education funding that ultimately recommended the weighted student funding model that inspired the system in use today.

Away from campus, Hechter is remembered as a caring, fatherlike figure.

Nichole Shoning was a teenager in the 1990s when she worked as a file clerk at Saxton Inc., where Hechter was the senior vice president of business affairs. He treated her like an equal, she said, and showed compassion while her father was dying of brain cancer.

“I think back sitting in Marc’s office, and he would just make sure I was taken care of and that I was doing OK and just being supportive,” she said.

Hechter leaves behind his wife, two children and three grandchildren — and droves of current and former students whom he inspired.

“If there’s one thing that he can be really proud of,” Vlaming said, “it’s that he impacted a lot of people who went on to do great things because of his support.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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