Superintendent’s Remarks at Opening Institute: Aug. 21, 2017
The most important thing I can say to this audience today is “Thank You.” A year ago I couldn’t say that. It wasn’t that you didn’t deserve appreciation; it was because I didn’t know that I could in all honesty say “thank you” in a broad sense. It would have been shallow. Today, however, I feel that I can because I have been in your schools… I have been in your classrooms… I have talked to you personally… I have talked to your students… I’ve been to your programs, faculty meetings, and community council meetings, and I’ve talked to parents and other stakeholders, and I’ve heard from a lot of them too. I’ve done my action research, and I am confident that you deserve, not only my appreciation, but my respect. The things you have done for kids has been inspiring.
At Book Cliff Elementary- In the aftermath of a devastating break-in with resulting damage and property loss as well as the loss of instructional time due to the closure of the school as it became a crime scene, I told Principal Jones that we could petition the state superintendent for a make-up day waiver. That it would likely be granted, and that the time missed would not have to be made up. JR talked to his faculty about that option, and each teacher agreed not to go that route but rather to use one of their Friday early-out days as a full-day of school to make up those hours lost. The message was unanimous and very clear: “Our school will not let the bad guys win. Our instructional time with kids is far more important than that.” Thank you Book Cliff. I respect what you have done for our district and for your stakeholders.
At Green River High School, I attended the first day of the 2-day accreditation site visit and sat in on the accreditation team’s interviews with students, parents, and teachers. One after another shared their positive experiences at this school as well as their appreciation for their teachers, principal and staff. The recurring motif from all of these interviews was, “We are a small school, and we like it that way because it is like a family, and we care about each other.” And as I listened to these testimonials, I recalled the respect this student body had shown in formally retiring by a ritual of fire tattered and worn American flags, and at home basketball games honoring veterans and first responders, and lifting the spirits of the elementary children after their school was burglarized and vandalized. It is amazing how fear and grief can turn to fun and games when an ice cream social is involved. Thank you. I respect what you have done for our district and your stakeholders.
During one of my visits to Ferron Elementary School, I had the honor of experiencing how that school gets its day started with the Liberty Kids posting the colors with such dignity and respect, setting the tone for the pledge, our national anthem, and the daily announcements. I stood in the hall by the office with Principal Dawes as these kids, without supervision, marched silently in single file, the leader carrying the folded flag, to the flag pole outside. Little voices echoed down the hallways, in unison, with the most important words they could say, “With liberty and justice for all…” Later in the school year, I was at Ferron Elementary at the close of the school day and watched a new collection of Liberty Kids retire the colors for the day with the same level of respect, and I also attended an honors program for Liberty Kids where their efforts and status as role models were recognized by the entire school and many parents. Thank you. I respect what you have done for our district and your stakeholders.
At San Rafael Junior High, the Annual Veterans’ Day Program once again rose to the highest level of dignity, and one of the most important learning experiences our children can have- honoring our veterans and those currently serving our county. But this year’s program turned out to be especially iconic for the Emery School District. This was the last Veterans’ Day Program for Sam Singleton, the man who started the program so many years before as principal at that school, and the man who continued to support it as a veteran and a member of the Emery County Board of Education. It was at that program that I spoke to Sam for the last time as he passed away a few days later. But he continues to speak to all of us as his legacy is imbedded in our school culture. Thank you San Rafael. I respect what you have done for our district and your stakeholders.
It was that same November that we activated our crisis intervention teams when Emery High student Ethan Winter was killed in an auto accident. Ethan was just getting his senior year started and was a member of the football team and looking forward to the soccer season when it all ended… too soon. The death of a student is the hardest thing a school can face. While dealing with personal grief, administrators, their faculties and staffs must also deal with the grief of their students as well. But Emery High rose above the pain to move the school year forward and to do so with empathy for all who suffered. I respect what you have done for our district and your stakeholders.
I had an opportunity to work with a school, Castle Dale Elementary, on a matter involving class size and a unique student dynamic that made up that class. The challenges were very complicated, and there was a lot at stake. Solving these issues required collaboration on many different levels- students, parents, adult aides, a student teacher, classroom teacher, principal, counselors, and the district office. The problems weren’t human caused as much as they were the result of circumstances- a perfect storm of opposing forces. It was only because of a combined effort that we were able to find solutions that met the needs to some extent of everyone involved and certainly in the best interests of the students. I respect what was done for our district and your stakeholders.
These are just some of the examples that speak to the high level of professionalism and dedication that are pervasive in our schools. But we have seen such collaboration on the district level as well as we combined human resources representing multiple stakeholders in our Technology Committee and subcommittee work, our testing committee which voted to opt out of 11th grade SAGE testing last year, our Calendar Committee which put together the 3-year calendar that goes into effect this year… and on a larger scale, nearly all of our schools have been impacted by the preparations for the transition of sixth graders to middle school and ninth graders to high school. Ultimately, time, starting tomorrow, will tell… but as this story unfolds, I have to express deep appreciation for everyone who helped to make this huge shift in our dynamic work. To those brave elementary teachers who offered to leave schools and teaching assignments they loved to move into secondary positions for this school year, knowing they would have to get endorsements and licensing and leave behind what had become their comfort zone, you have my sincere appreciation.
The day I met with a group of teachers and Principal Lofley at Cleveland Elementary to let them know which among them had been chosen to move to the middle school was an experience I’ll never forget. Their eyes spoke volumes about their feelings- happiness, fear, regret, hopefulness, panic and more panic… Certainly they weren’t picked at random. They had asked to be considered for a transfer. I saw those same looks come from Principal Lofley as he was hearing for the first time that the core of his teaching staff would be leaving. I also saw those same conflicting emotions in the eyes of Canyon View Principal Yvonne Jensen, and I heard it in her voice too, as she was challenged with replacing four superstar teachers who had agreed to move to the high school. But more than anything, I sensed that the overwhelming disposition of all those involved in this massive endeavor was this: “If it will help kids, and if it will help our school district, I’m willing to do it.” And for Cortnee Justice, taking that leap from Huntington Elementary to the high school to teach language arts, a subject very dear to me, speaks so clearly to her willingness to support the team for the greater good of the district and the students it serves. She even told me, “If it will help the district, then I’ll do it.” Thanks for all of these contributions and others that have taken place and for allowing us to reach our objectives of putting the best teachers we can in positions to do the most good for children without reduction in staff. And we did it. And let’s think for a moment about what has taken place at Emery High over the last 12 months with respect to the transition. The student body numbers have grown by 150 students, every available space is being used for instruction even after four mobile classrooms have been added, the school is adopting a block schedule, six and a half FTEs have been added, adjustments have been made to the seating capacity in the lunch room, and transportation routes have been reconfigured to accommodate all of these changes. This has been an amazing effort that tells us when we work together we can accomplish a great deal. I respect what you’ve done for our district and for our stakeholders. We’ll see how it all comes together tomorrow…
A year ago, you listened as I laid out our goals for 2016-17 with a level of acceptance that may have included a little doubt and perhaps fear- it was change and change can be hard. But you listened, and then you responded and here we are today with PLCs and Collaborative Teams generally in place, poised to go to the next level. Over 50 of you attended rural schools to support the district PLC philosophy and to absorb ideas that will help you in your schools and in your classrooms and ideas that you can share with your colleagues. But we have more to do, and it starts today when you meet after lunch with your collaborative teams to lay down rules of order and establish common strategies to help your students, not just collectively as a class, but individually. Every one of your students deserves that dedicated, personalized-education attention. None of us is so good that we can’t get better at what we do. And surely one way to get better is by working together.
As I visited schools last year, what I looked forward to most was the interactive part… the being involved part. I greatly appreciate opportunities I had to read to students, in many cases stories I had written… to have lunch with students… conduct science experiments with students… to sit in on student council meetings… give lessons on writing… to play ball with kids at recess… I did a lesson on the layered meanings in poetry in a few classes, and in Mr. Cox’s 5th grade class at Cottonwood in the midst of interpreting a poem I had written about my transition from being a principal to becoming the superintendent, and nearly 40 years as an educator, a student in the class raised his hand and asked, “How old ARE you?” It kind of caught me off guard, but it wasn’t a hard question, certainly not as hard as peeling back the layers of a poem. My answer was, “I’m a lot younger than I look.”
Bob Dylan’s song recorded in 1964 “My Back Pages”- a song also recorded by the Byrds in 1967- includes the line: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” In the song's lyrics, Dylan criticizes himself for having been certain that he knew everything, and he even apologizes for his previous political and social preaching, noting that he had become his own enemy. Being around kids at every grade level, with all due respect to how we feel at the end of the day, has kept me younger than I look and has kept me learning from those I’ve taught for most of my life. Sometime I think that looking younger and feeling older might be better, and maybe I’ve learned to pace myself a little bit too, but I believe our kids in their quest for learning, their uninhibited nature, their enthusiasm for life, the challenges they bring to us every day, if we allow it and if we assume we can learn from them and from each other, we can age backwards. Being part of your professional lives, in your domains, with your students has been the single most rewarding thing for me in my position as superintendent. I respect what you have done for our district and your stakeholders. And I appreciate what you have done for me personally. I am younger than I was a year ago. Thank you…
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