Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Questions In Light of Sandy Hook

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been covered from every conceivable angle, and like many of you, I have read nearly everything that has been written.  It’s not that I have a fascination with what happened, rather, I read because I am trying to glean some kind of insight as to how this can happen in the modern world.  Many people are piecing together bits of information trying to figure out why that young man committed such an atrocity.  There will be an explanation from experts, but like most of the times when something like this happens, the best witness – the killer – is not alive to tell, assuming they would be capable of explaining why they would do something so unthinkable.  Brenda Ann Spencer, one of the first school shooters, was taken alive and explained that she did it because “I don’t like Mondays.”  The why is important, but so is the how, and that is what is occupying my thoughts as I keep thinking about this, ten days after it happened.
How, in a democratic society, free of war on its soil for over 150 years, do we have people that arm themselves with weapons of war?  How does anyone in our country have a mindset that governmental tyranny is just a step away, thus a need for individuals to amass small arsenals of weapons?  How is it that a country that has made tremendous advances in medicine in the past 40 years done so little to address mental illness?  How have we advanced beyond a bloody civil rights movement in the middle of the previous century, yet maintain sometimes extreme intolerance of people that are “different?”  How have we as a nation lost our sense of community and perhaps humanity?  How have we become a country that in some places puts up gates to keep others out?  How does a young man, the son of highly educated parents, not receive effective treatment for obvious mental issues and also have such easy access to military grade weapons?
We are a nation of laws.  We are a nation of freedoms and responsibilities.  We are a nation that still considers itself the “caretaker of the world.”  We are a nation that is made up of people of every race, creed, color, nationality, religion, and ethnic background.  So, how do we as Americans come together to ensure that people do not need to worry about sending their children to school, going on a date to a movie, or shopping at a mall?  What I know first hand is that we have a severe lack of understanding about mental illness, and especially in rural areas, horribly little access to mental health professionals.  It is a national disgrace that we spend millions of dollars on unnecessary cosmetic enhancements, yet we come nowhere close to helping those who need professional help for mental illness.  I also know that access to military weapons by civilians is not necessary.  I do not object to people owning guns, but I fail to see any reason for people in a civilized society to have the kind of weapons used in the recent massacres that have taken place in our country.  I also know that in our country we have tremendous fears of people that are different, which is perhaps why people feel a need to arms themselves.  What happened to the “kinder and gentler nation” President George H.W. Bush referred to in his Inaugural Address?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whole Grade Sharing -- Part I

The process of working together with folks from the Valley school district, as well as North Fayette patrons and students has been exactly what I expected: a challenging, exciting, interesting experience.  Talking to fellow principals that have gone through the same experience, I was told that there would be bumps in the road, and in the past couple of weeks, we have had the bumpy part, or at least our first bumps.  However, I think we have navigated them well and I am very confident moving on that we are going to have this agreement in place soon and we can get down to the planning for next year.  However, even though we’re still a long way from finished, there are some things that standout so far.
First off, I have been impressed by the common goal expressed by so many on the three committees I serve to pull together and create more positive learning opportunities for our children.  That is the focal point and for the vast majority of people, creating the best academic program possible is very important.  Yes, there are some loud voices out there that seem to care a lot more about things that are not quite as important.  But my experience on a daily basis is that a majority of people cares a lot about what we can do to put together a strong school for our kids.  Contrary to many of the rumors floating around, there is a commitment to make this work in both districts.
There have been a lot of emotions expressed on some topics, but I do maintain the best decisions are made when one takes emotion out of the equation.  Because of that, I am encouraged that we are going to take some more time with the school name, mascot, and colors.  I am absolutely convinced the students from both districts will be able to come together on this, and what is now a very divisive issue will be one that unites our kids.  In my opinion, it is a lot more important that our kids are united as one moving forward, and I think the majority of people agree, than what our colors are.  I have tremendous faith in young people because in reality, we need to find a balance between tradition and a new beginning, and the kids are capable of doing that.  What we have not done so far is communicate, and going forward that will happen.  We have some very talented students in both of our schools and we will see how effective our young leaders can be. 
I often pose the question “Are we preparing our kids for our past or their future?”  There is only one right answer – their future.  School, while the centerpiece for many communities, is about the students and we need to keep that are the front of all of the decisions we make.