I dedicate tonight's effort to two remarkable women who fought admirably against Triple Negative Breast Cancer: my good friend Barbara Larson, a friend to many and exemplary educator; and Charmaine Aranda, school secretary extraordinaire.
I had several ideas percolating for this blog and composed and recomposed them in my head as I wandered 7 miles in the hills with my golden retriever Java. Returning from our hike hot, sweaty and dirty (at least I was, as Java required a bath before entering the house) I stopped in the hallway to look at my phone. There's nothing better than stopping mid-stride anywhere to whip out the smart phone and check out Facebook don't you think? I can't be alone in this; you know you do it too, though maybe you shower first. After hiking. Seven miles. Hot. Dusty. Bathing the dog. Regardless, all thoughts of my blogs on stress, my first (and very successful I might add…thank you AB!) board meeting, the dedication of teachers, flew out of my mind upon noticing the Celebration of Life for Charmaine. I would have been stopped in my tracks if I hadn't been already. I knew she was seriously ill. She hadn't been at school when I left the district. I hadn't thought of, or anticipated her death. I watched the ten minute slide show gracefully playing on my phone for less than 30 seconds. I just couldn't. Her loss was just one too many, particularly to breast cancer, and particularly in the same month that my friend Barbara lost that last battle in 2014. How could this have happened and how could I have not known? Those questions are easy to answer. Triple Negative Breast cancer is a monster. It doesn't let many off. Charmaine wasn't working and I left the district. I wish I had known so I could have attended her memorial. She was always a positive presence at her school. She always had a smile and if ever there was an issue that I, from the District Office, needed solved at her site, I needed only to ask. I once was tagged to be the substitute principal at her site and she held my hand for the entire week I was there. That was perhaps 18 years ago and I still remember Charmaine's kindness and skill. She was a gem, and no doubt she will be sorely missed. She was part of the family. She made her school feel like a family.
And Barbara? I've heard other friends and her family refer to fresh grief, when the loss hits again. She was my family. My work family. My friend. She was the third and forth wheel of a smoothly running machine, the SPED TEAM for many years. I don't think we were ever the same without her, though like a family, we rallied around each other and held each other up in the hard times.
What does this have to do with being a superintendent (and principal) in a country school? Everything. Everything.
My entire school staff, including the superintendent's cabinet of one (that would be me) consists of eleven people. When you figure in 5 board members, there are 16 of us impacting the lives of multiple children, over many years. These folks emphasized to me the importance of seeing the school as a family right off the bat; that they felt like a family and were looking to me to nurture that. Not only do I value a school that feels like family, but as a a leader, I believe very strongly in the adage that "it's all about relationships". That should properly read it's all about positive and healthy relationships but no one ever adds that much detail. I sponged up that adage with dewey eyes from a superintendent I worked with for twelve years, every time he spoke. He knew kids and their cousins, and probably their dogs too, at the high schools, although each school carried more than 2500 students. He cared deeply about kids, teachers, parents and everyone really. I aspire to be like him, although my world is much smaller. I was listening Jim though grammatically speaking my eyes were dewey and bright while my brain sponged up your wisdom!
I feel like part of the family in my new school already. The community is warm and welcoming, the teachers are dedicated, my administrative assistant is wonderful and my custodian and her canine sidekick keeps the school beautiful and our paraeducators give of their time and energy freely. These folks feel like family. Maybe some superintendents or school leaders feel you cannot effectively manage and develop positive and even close relationships at the same time. That's wrong, plain wrong in my handy-dandy book on leadership. It just makes the hard decisions a bit harder. The hard conversations a bit harder but I've always felt that kindness and friendly support in the delivery of bad news, whatever it may be, goes a long way. Educators at the middle and high school should know the importance of positive adult connections and relationships for students. Mountains of research support improved academic and social achievement for kids who connect with adults (not on-line). It's the same for teachers. A school is a microcosm of family: there's an order (I hesitate to call it birth order although I just did.), changes, shifts, holidays and good things and bad things happen. Life contained in a school and life where I'm at is good. Life is good indeed.
I give a shout out to my school family for supporting my visit with my biological family. I was fortunate to be able to spend time with four generations of my family from my 91 year old mother, to my 6 month old grand niece, the week before school started because of the generosity of the people I now work with.
Life is good. I look forward to hearing the kids bleating in the distance tomorrow morning, the neighing horses and squeaking zebra. The children arrive this Thursday. My pink suit is ready and my agenda is still….not.