Sunday, February 18, 2018


I was a baby teacher in 1999, in the inner-city of Chicago, when the first school shooting took place. A number of my friends called me and worried about me. Given where I was living, they thought my school on the Near West Side of Chicago was more at risk. The thought of a school shooting never crossed my mind. Perhaps I was naive or perhaps because every single student in that school lived at or below the poverty line, this never entered into my thinking.

On the same day that Our Son Patrick Michael Ricca was born, August 24, 2006, another school shooting happened in Essex, VT. Even though school was not in session, lives were lost. I was not living in Vermont at the time, but it registered for me since I was married to a native Vermonter.

On December 14, 2012, the tragedy of Sandy Hook occurred and twenty-six people lost their lives. That was my second year in Montpelier Public Schools as Superintendent and was off campus that day, driving with My Family. As the news reports started, my phone began to ring. I was overwhelmed with what was happening. Our Sons were 4 and 6 at the time, and I looked over my shoulder to see them comfortably strapped into their car seats in our mini-van, blissfully unaware of what was happening in Connecticut.

On January 16, 2018, Nathan Giffin lost his life on grounds of Montpelier High School. I was in the unified command center with first responders. I held my breath when I heard over the radio "shots fired" and recognized the voice was that of our School Resource Officer, Corporal Matthew Knisley. I didn't realize I was holding my breath until I exhaled when I finally heard his voice again over the radio several long moments later.

This past Wednesday, seventeen students lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I had followed the news all day, sickened again by the loss of innocent life. When putting Patrick to bed that night (Our Son born the same day as the Essex shooting) he said to me, "I know what happened today Daddy." Unsure of what he meant, I responded "What do you mean Love?" His response, "We were at McGillicuddy's watching TV and it wasn't the news. I was just reading the crawl at the bottom of the screen. (long pause) That kinda thing isn't going to happen to us, right?"

Just in this post alone I have noted five school shootings and their impact on my life. That is five too many. None of the facts of these school shootings are in dispute.

Vermont's Governor Phil Scott noted in this article on VT Digger that "it is time for 'an honest and open and fact-based discussion about access to guns by those who shouldn't have them.' " We must take action. We simply must.

There are just too many guns in our country, and essentially unfettered access to them. As someone who is legally obligated to keep Montpelier's children safe, and speaking for my colleague Elaine Pinckney, who is legally obligated to keep my own children safe, I am overwhelmed by the urgency of this.

In Vermont, children are compelled to come to school from the ages of 6 - 16. We must do more to ensure their safety. We must do more, period.

I have had enough. I hope you have too.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What Are You Reading?

In recent weeks, Montpelier Public Schools have received a substantial amount of media attention regarding flying a Black Lives Matter flag on our campus. It was covered by many media outlets across the political spectrum. Yesterday Vermont Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman shared the graphic below:

The entire post and explanation for this graphic is fascinating and I encourage you to read it.

It is interesting to note that MPS was covered by organizations all over this graphic during the past several weeks, leading to different reactions and messages being sent to us. When we spoke to the media, we stayed on message with our talking points and if need be, pivoted back to the reason the Board directed us to fly a Black Lives Matters flag in the first place: honoring the experience of our Black students in Montpelier Public Schools. This is a response to our collective recognition that we need to be a more inclusive community.

In a handful of the conversations that I had either via e-mail or on the phone with people who disagreed with our decision, I was able to explain the rationale for flying a Black Lives Matter flag. In each of those conversations, the individuals expressed some level of disgust at what our Black students were experiencing in our school. While some still maintained that flying the flag was a mistake, none argued that what was happening in our schools was appropriate. In fact, one woman did say to me, "Well that wasn't reported in the article I read..."

It is my firm belief that we will make a difference when we discuss implicit bias and privilege, if we have real conversations with people. Rarely is that going to happen through the media. A story may spark someone to reach out and find out more. And that's where we can have an impact, one relationship at a time.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

And Now... Exhale

It has been quite a couple of weeks in Montpelier Public Schools. I'm incredibly proud to be serving in a community where student leadership is honored by publicly elected officials and in a peaceful assembly, we are able to fly a Black Lives Matter Flag on the campus of Montpelier High School.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. wrote an op-ed piece in the Miami Herald, both CNN and NBC News thought the event was newsworthy, and we even received an endorsement from Vermont's own Ben and Jerry's.

We have had press inquiries from Al Jazeera, the Associated Press, and Newsweek. Our students have been honored for their courage, our leaders have received overwhelmingly supportive messages from around the United States, and our community has been the focus of much of the news cycle for the past several days. And Friday the first day after our assembly, when our first shift custodian arrived at school, the flag was still flying and the building was covered with hearts.

It has been a whirlwind and an emotional roller coaster for sure. Patience has been tested, feelings have run hot, and capacity has been stretched. And we have made it. We are on the other side of the assembly and proud to be taking each day that comes one at a time. Each day renews our commitment to equity. Each day renews our commitment to justice. Each day renews our commitment to our Black students... and all our students.

We are very proud of what we do in Montpelier Public Schools. We were very proud before we raised a Black Lives Matter flag. We are very proud of what we did that day. We will be very proud of the work we will continue to do for all our students in Montpelier Public Schools. In MPS, we consistently work to build relationships as the foundation for making a difference in the lives of our students.

It's time to get back to work!