Monday, January 15, 2018

Shed A Little Light

This past weekend in Montpelier, the sun rose at 7:22 AM and set at 4:37 PM, a total of nine hours and fifteen minutes of sunlight and while it pales in comparison to what we see in the middle of June (and the rest of our warmer months) it is better than how little we saw in December.  Even if it is only marginally better, even if only by minutes, we are gaining more and more sunlight every day. 

One of my favorite singers, James Taylor, wrote and performed a song called "Shed A Little Light" in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Click here to listen to it.  One of the lines speaks to me very clearly, especially in the world of education, in 2018:

That we are bound together, in our desire to see the world become, 
A place in which our children can grow free and strong.

Now, perhaps more than ever, in a world that seems to be growing more and more polarized everyday, it is critical that we recognize when we are all pulling in the same direction.  By doing that, we can ensure that we honor the work that everyone is doing on behalf of all our children, and for us in Montpelier Public Schools a centerpiece to that work this year is equity.  

In the coming weeks, we will continue to focus our work with the Racial Justice Alliance, a student led organization at Montpelier High School, to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and promote more equity in 2018.  Our commitment to each and every student in Montpelier Public Schools is that they feel safe and included when they walk through our doors each and every morning.  

As the days get longer, we are committing to shed more light in Montpelier Public Schools.  We will be working to honor each and every student, regardless of skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.  And while we cannot eradicate all inequity in our world, we will take a stand in MPS and say not here!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

It Really Does Take a Village

This past week, there was an apartment fire in Montpelier.  It displaced eight families, two of them with direct connections to Montpelier Public Schools: one of our employees and one of our families was living in that building. 

At 1:40 PM, I received an e-mail from the City Manager, letting me know there was a structure fire in town.  Based on the address, we were able to determine whom was impacted by this fire, thanks to some quick work by our Data Manager, Chris Ilstrup.  Before long, I had assigned the family "homeless" status, which makes several resources available immediately.  We were able to speak directly with the impacted employee, who did not have a lot of information at that point. 

Before the end of the day, we were able to be in touch with the counselor of the family impacted by the fire.  Through that relationship, we established a means of communication to connect with the family.  Another staff member in MPS would be the main point of communication to our affected employee, ensuring we would not overwhelm anyone by reaching out. 

In my experience, those of us who are aware of situations like this immediately feel the need to "do something," and that can put pressure on those who have already been through so much.  While the urge to do something is palpable from our perspective, often it is best to wait to see what the real need is.  These situations are not about us, and our need to help and do; it is about those who may have lost everything. 

I am proud of the MPS response.  It was patient and allowed (and is allowing) those impacted by this fire to let us know what they need.  We have placed envelopes in each building to collect donations for both the family and the employee.  Friends of the family have started a GoFundMe page and while several asked to start one for the impacted employee, he kindly and respectfully declined.  We are listening to his wishes.  It is not about us. 

My sincere thanks to Bill Fraser, the City Manager of Montpelier, for sending that e-mail on Tuesday afternoon.  I don't, and cannot, serve Montpelier alone.  I'm humbled and grateful to have wonderful people around me to ensure that we care for each and everyone connected to Montpelier Public Schools.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year... New Resolution?

Tradition says at the new year, one makes resolutions.  Personally, I've never been good at that and try to avoid making them.  However, during the winter recess, I saw the following image on Twitter and was inspired: 

So much of what we read about in the news, on social media, so much of what permeates our world are people taking down other people.  Literally and figuratively.  We are being shown in words and in deeds, that to exercise power we must do it at the expense of others.  

I wholeheartedly disagree.  

In education, relationships are what matters.  I remember some "content" from my many years in classrooms as a student, yet can easily name my most influential teachers by name.  Their imprint on my life goes far beyond the things they taught me; their imprint is a result of the relationship we built together.  It is a result of how I felt when I was in their classrooms: safe, included, and cared for.  

So while I am still reluctant to make a resolution to begin 2018, I do promise to be more thoughtful and purposeful about lifting others.  Will you join me?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

And Other Duties, As Assigned

This past week, I went to Union Elementary School for classroom visits.  As I always do, I checked in at the front office to let folks know I would be there.  To my surprise, two new faces were at the desk: Anne Fraser one of our Instructional Assistants and Diadel Ortiz who directs our after school program.  Normally, I would see Diana Koliander-Hart and Pam Foster who ensure that the trains run on time at UES.

I soon found out they were at a training and as Anne rose from the desk, she told me with a smile it was now "my turn" as she needed to get back to her regular duties.  I paused.  Classroom visits are one of my favorite parts about being Superintendent.  Interacting with students and teachers in their learning environments, building relationships, listening to what is happening on a day-to-day basis, shows Montpelier Public Schools that I mean what I say when I commit to every student feeling safe and included when they come to school.

And yet, there was a concrete need in front of me.  I could not say no - this is what UES needed to ensure that the school continued to run smoothly.  Now please know that I have never been officially seated in that chair.  Clearly, I can answer the phone, but I am well aware that front-office Administrative Assistant positions are critical to a well-run building.  And there is so much more to those positions than simply answering the phone.  Anyone who has spent any time in schools knows that is a fact.  This was the view from my chair that day:

As it turns out, there was very little for me to do while I was there.  The phone rang and was answered by Diadel.  A couple of folks inquired about whether or not there was outdoor recess.  The front door chimed once, and Diadel let that person in.  She showed me the steps to do it the next time it rang but it never did again while I was there.

Soon, Diana returned and shortly after that, Pam did as well.  I was on my way to my classroom visits.  But I was also struck by how uncomfortable and nervous I was being thrust into a position that I was not familiar with.  It made me grateful, incredibly grateful, for all the employees of MPS who do many, many jobs that I am not nearly proficient in.  We rely on each other to ensure that the mission is a reality for all students.  Without the capable and fabulous staff members in our district, along with countless volunteers, we would not be able to serve our students and their families in the consistent, thorough, and thoughtful way that we do. 

Instruction is at the core of education.  Yet it would be shortsighted to fail to recognize the critical role that staff play in the lives of our students and their families.  At the very heart, education is a human endeavor; and we do it together.  We are all part of the wonderful enterprise that we call Montpelier Public Schools.  When we make mistakes, the errors are shared and our joys are multiplied when we succeed.  It is, as it always has been and will continue to be, about relationships. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Are You Listening?

This year, all of Montpelier Public Schools are renewing our commitment toward equity.  The Leadership Team is working with CQ Strategies in their "We All Belong" series.  Rebecca Haslam from the Burlington School District and Seed the Way is working with our faculties to bring more awareness to the concrete ways we can make equity a reality for all students in our classrooms. 

For me, equity is ensuring that every one of our students has what s/he needs to feel safe and included, so that s/he can learn to their potential.  It is distinct from equality, in which every student gets the "same".  The image below from Cultural Organizing is one of my favorites that demonstrates the difference:

I've been visiting Faculty Meetings at each of the schools and recently I was struck by the candor and frankness of a conversation.  Part of creating a space for all students to feel safe and included, is ensuring there is room for adults to make mistakes, learn and grow.  As part of this conversation, one of the teachers challenged the entire room to be sure that we are listening, both to each other as adults and more importantly, to our students. 

Our students are speaking to us and they are speaking clearly.  Some have told us they don't feel particularly welcome in school because of the color of their skin.  Some have told us they don't feel particularly safe in school because of the gender they identify as.  Some have told us they don't feel particularly included because of whom they love. 

Our students are speaking to us and we are working by bringing equity to the forefront of our faculty meetings.  What are the next steps we need to take to ensure that all of Montpelier Public Schools' students feel safe and included when they come to school? 

We do not have all the answers yet.  But we are listening. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Even Adults Make Mistakes

This past Thursday, we celebrated a mistake.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This past Thursday we celebrated a mistake.  The Montpellier Herault Sports club is a French association football club based in France.  It was discovered in September that their game jerseys contained a misspelling; the jerseys were missing one "l".  The story received international attention three months ago, and just this weekend, even NPR covered it. 

Instead of sending the misspelled jerseys back to the manufacturer, the French city officials reached out to our one "l" Montpelier city officials and arranged for the jerseys to be sent to us.  We held a Skype ceremony to connect with our closely named counterparts in Europe.  It was a wonderful opportunity to meet - albeit electronically - people whose path we normally would not have crossed. 

We had students from each of our schools represented, Union Elementary School, Main Street Middle School, and Montpelier High School.  What a unique moment for them to be a part of.  One that started from a mistake. 

We spend a good deal of time correcting mistakes as educators, and really as human beings.  It seems that it's more of a one-way street, with adults doing a fair amount of the correcting for our students.  As adults, it's critical that we are open to having our students point out the places we have misstepped; since it is all in the name of lifelong learning, there is no shame in making mistakes. 

This week the City of Montpellier, France modeled that the most important step after to take once a mistake is made is how to correct it.  In this case, relationships were bridged across two continents.  What a beautiful life lesson for our students to witness. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Paying it Forward

I had My Boys with me at work last Monday, as they had no school and Montpelier Public Schools were open.  I'm very grateful to work in a place that welcomes My Children when need be.  Everyone is so kind to them when they're with me, people go out of their way to talk with them, and especially the people in Central Office make them feel like a part of the family. 

Their favorite pizza in Montpelier is at Positive Pie and I took them there to grab some slices for lunch.  We parked on State Street and as we walked to the restaurant, we passed another favorite lunch spot of mine Wilaiwan's, which was closed.  I explained to My Boys how much I love their authentic Thai food and hopefully the next time they come to work with me, we can eat there.

As we continued west on State Street, I heard a voice call out, "Wait, wait, this is for you!"  I turned to see Dang, one of the people that works in Wilaiwan's running down the street toward us.  She handed me two jars and said, "Happy Thanksgiving.  I know how much you love our spicy hot sauce."  With that she turned and ran off, leaving me stunned on the sidewalk.

I was blown away by the kindness and generosity Dang showed me.  My Boys could not understand what just happened, so I explained to them who Dang was, how thoughtful a gift she shared, and why it was so meaningful to me.  

We continued on to Positive Pie, where I ordered some slices and drinks to go.  While waiting, I put the two jars on the counter, prompting the woman taking my order to say, "I gotta ask, what's with the jars?"  Beaming, I explained what had just happened.  

The woman's face broke into a huge smile, as she admitted how much she too loves their food.  We both admitted to "tipping back" the bowl at the end of our meal to ensure that no scrap of food, no matter how small, is ever left behind.  We continued to chat a bit about how kind Dang's gesture was.  As I was paying for our pizza, the woman looked at me and said, "I'm so touched by this, that I'm going to do something similar to someone else today." 

I hope you're touched by kindness and choose to continue spreading it this week.