By JAMES WALSH
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: April 2, 2004)
It would seem that life in a second-grade classroom would be enough reality for anyone.
Not for Rachel Goetz, though. She has lost her job as a Clarkstown teacher for appearing on NBC's "Average Joe: Adam Returns," instead of being in her classroom at the Lakewood Elementary School in Congers.
Goetz, 24, is the daughter of Michael and Sarah Goetz, educators who retired with almost 70 years of combined service in the Clarkstown school district.
Their daughter was compelled to resign in her second year after she decided to compete before a television audience for the affections of Adam Mesh, a stock trader from Manhattan.
Goetz was one of a legion of women across the country who were smitten with the 28-year-old Mesh, who reality television Web sites say is rumored to be rich.
NBC-TV was awash in thousands of e-mails and videotapes when the network began auditioning the dating hopefuls.
The exercise ended with Goetz joining 18 other women from 12 states and a province of Canada when the show aired last month.
During the filming, the women competed in activities as varied as stock trading and assembling a basketball backstop. Their reward for a job well done was being picked by Adam for a date. Then there was dinner, wine and perhaps a kiss or two in a hot tub.
In one episode, women cried and appeared devastated when they saw a tape of Mesh kissing their cohorts.
"This show is based on an interest in Adam," Caroline Perez, the show's publicist, said this week when asked what attributes were sought in the contestants.
Indeed, that was Goetz's impetus after seeing Mesh lose out on a previous show when he competed for a woman's attention.
Nearly 20 million viewers watched Mesh's heart-broken moment, according to the Reality TV World Web site.
"He just came across as this all-around great guy who didn't get the girl," Goetz said. "I thought he should have won. He was so great, so adorable, and when I heard he was having his own show I thought that maybe I could be on it; that I'd like to meet this guy."
Goetz wouldn't discuss whether she was dating then or now — such revelations were against the show's rules — and she wouldn't say whether she eventually won Mesh's heart. Also against the rules.
Following this week's show, Goetz was one of five finalists. The winner will be revealed in a two-hour show on Monday beginning at 9 p.m.
Regardless of her dating prowess, Goetz will be unemployed as of May 1.
Now, that's reality.
Clarkstown schools Superintendent William Heebink said it was unreasonable for Goetz to think she could leave her teaching duties for three weeks.
The leave was denied by the Board of Education, which accepted Goetz's resignation on March 25.
"It would be difficult to operate a school district," Heebink said, "when a teacher or any other employee took three weeks' time whenever there was something of high personal interest to them."
The problem, Goetz said, was that time was so short, and planning so unpredictable.
She applied for a spot on the show in late January. Preliminary rounds of interviews then followed in New York and Los Angeles during a school vacation.
On Feb. 9, five days before the vacation, she wrote to Heebink requesting a 15-day unpaid leave to pursue "the opportunity of a lifetime."
The school board rejected the leave three days later.
By the time she was notified of that decision, she had been picked for the show and taken for three weeks of filming in Palm Springs.
As is standard for reality television, the contestants were not allowed to call home or receive calls during the filming, so Goetz said she was unaware that her leave had been denied until she returned to New City on March 15.
Telephone calls from the outside, or conversations about what was going on elsewhere would lend confusion to the show, said Andrew Glassman, executive producer.
"Rachel is confident, smart, beautiful, had great charisma on camera and is friendly to everyone," Glassman said of what led to her being chosen for the show.
Perez, the show's publicist, was unaware of any other contestants' losing a job over the program.
Ann Marie McGrade, president of the Lakewood PTA, wouldn't talk about the matter.
"I just don't feel comfortable discussing it," McGrade said.
Goetz said her resignation was forced, and that she was assigned to be a substitute teacher through May 1, but not at Lakewood.
"I was surprised that I wasn't allowed back in my classroom," Goetz said as she sat in the kitchen of her parents' New City home, where she lives.
"If I can be in other schools," she said, "why can't I put forth my efforts on behalf of my students?"
There was no prize money, Goetz said, and she had no design on fame or fortune.
"I was there to meet Adam," she said. "My heart is in teaching. My intent was to meet him, have the experience and then come back."
Goetz speaks between answering her cell phone and an oven timer. She's watching over dinner until her mother, who's a substitute teacher in her retirement, comes home.
Several balloons hang motionless in the corner of a room containing a giant television screen. They're remnants of a welcome-home party when family and friends joined Goetz to view a segment of the show.
Goetz rushes through a paper plate of matzo farfel before heading off to graduate school classes. She plans to earn her master's in literacy this year.
She'll also be typing resumes for a teaching job.
"I still feel that in life you're rarely presented with a chance for an experience of a lifetime," Goetz said. "You need to grab onto those. It was an experience, but I'm grounded enough to know that I still want to be a teacher."