Continuing with my penchant for metaphors, I’d like to share a story I came across four years ago when I was transitioning from principal to assistant superintendent. It surfaced again through my more recent transition meetings. The story goes as follows:
A scholar approached an old boatman and asked him to row him across a lake. The journey was long and slow, and there was good reason to doubt the boat’s ability to make the crossing.
As each minute passed, the scholar became bored. He called out, “Boatman, let’s have a conversation.” Suggesting a topic of special interest to himself, he asked, “Have you ever studied phonetics or grammar?”
“No,” said the boatman. “I’ve no use for those tools.”
“Too bad,” said the scholar. “You’ve wasted half your life. It’s useful to know the rules.”
Not too long after, the rickety boat crashed into a rock in the middle of the river, and the boatman turned to the scholar and said, “Pardon my humble mind that to you must seem dim, but wise man, tell me, have you ever learned to swim?”
“No,” said the scholar, “I’ve never learned. I’ve immersed myself in thinking.”
“In that case,” said the boatman, “you’ve wasted all your life. Alas, the boat is sinking.”
As I reflect on the past four years, and as I prepare myself for my next role as your superintendent, I am buoyed by the many accomplishments our district has accomplished at the elementary level. Unlike the scholar, we’ve been about both thinking and action.
• In our grade level teams, we now ask questions about student performance, choose strategies to intervene or accelerate learning, try out those strategies and measure their results. We celebrate successes and relentlessly pursue other approaches in an effort to unlock mysteries.
• We’ve brought the special education and general education worlds closer together.What this means is that instead of waiting for a child to fail, we use a preventative model called partnership services and utilize our resources preemptively.
• We’ve adopted new elementary language arts materials in reading and writing. We’re a big district. We’re an urban district. We have to always balance autonomy with cohesion. We trust teachers to be professionals, and we’ve invested in them by providing them with the language arts materials.
• We’ve created a support system for new principals by having a veteran principal provide weekly mentorship in the first year and monthly mentorship in the second year.
• We’ve added technology and other innovative programs like Benton STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) and the Nature School (to open in Rock Bridge State Park in August, 2015).
• With the community as our biggest ally, we passed a levy to restore classrooms that had been cut in previous years, and we passed two bonds so that we could accommodate the growth of our amazing community.
What an impressive list. And there is so much more, but I’m only given 500 words!
We’ve grown so much over the last 4 years. To continued successes — together!