Sunday, April 8, 2018

Say What You Need to Say

After sharing the news that the Board and I have decided it is in the best interest of the new school district to have new leadership, I have been flooded with kind words from people, both in person and via technology. I have been incredibly touched by the things that people have said to me in the past week, things I have had absolutely no idea about until now. It has been both humbling and incredibly gratifying at the same time.

A couple of weeks ago, a former colleague of mine passed away. I was able to go to his wake and found myself interacting with a number of former colleagues and former students. There I found myself saying things I had never said to people before, colleagues and students, even as I was working and interacting with them on a daily basis.

Perhaps it is human nature that transitions bring out a sense of reflection in all of us. In the interactions I've had with people in Montpelier Public Schools since the joint announcement from the Board and me, I'm sure I've said things to people in gratitude for their years of service and commitment to students and their families. Maybe it's just natural to wait to say things that we're thinking about. 

Mitch Albom, noted author (Tuesdays with Morrie), journalist, and philanthropist is quoted as saying, "Nothing haunts us like the things we don't say." Might I suggest that we think about that this week and find someone in our life, professionally or personally, that we have something to say to. Perhaps it's a student, a colleague, a spouse or a friend. Whomever it is, I am sure what you have to say will be meaningful to them. And I suspect it will be a special moment for you as well.

Education is a human endeavor. That's why we choose to make the time for our relationships.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Is It Really About Time?

I was in between dropping one of my children at school and having to return for an Open House for the other one. There was a small window of time and I was hoping to get a cup of coffee. Using the Starbucks app, I ordered my drink ahead of time and it was waiting for me when I arrived. I added cream and splenda and I was off.

It wasn't until I got back in my car that I realized I had not interacted with a single human being while I did that. From ordering the drink on my phone, to showing up to Starbucks, to getting my drink off the counter (confirming my name), to adding cream, to adding splenda, and back to my car. Not one word was spoken to anyone. Not. One. Word.

And there are times and places that works. I'm writing this blog post alone, focused, and without interruption. I often do my best writing alone, with quiet piano music playing. I like the George Winston station on Pandora to keep me company while I do my work.

So why did I choose to order that way? I wasn't entirely sure. Was it really about time? I did have a few more minutes when I got back to the school, I arrived a few minutes early. I could have stood in line (it was relatively short) and spoken to a human being when I ordered.

Was it the novelty of ordering using my phone and the Starbucks app? Maybe - I don't often drink Starbucks as I prefer Green Mountain Coffee. Honestly, it's pretty cool to tap your phone a few times and have a drink appear when you walk into a store...

I know I'm guilty of being too "into" my phone and my technology from time to time. I've caught myself not knowing what to do when I'm standing a line and don't have my phone with me. Those are not my proudest moments!

Technology has brought us many advances and certainly has opened up a world of possibilities in education that were not available even a few short years ago. But the critical nature of education comes in the relationships we build, nurture, and maintain. It's the only way that we can move our students and each other forward.

And more than anything else, relationships take time. It really is about time.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Even The Adults Sometimes Get It Wrong

I was at our elementary school a couple of weeks ago, and a student approached me.

"Dr. Ricca," he said, pulling on my pants. "Can I ask you a question?

"Of course," I responded.

"Are we going to have Community Connections today?"

You see, the day before was Wednesday, March 7. Since the previous Saturday, I had been getting weather updates from the meteorologists at the Burlington International Airport, twice a day. The updates were warning of a major Nor'easter heading our way. The timing predicted was not even remotely close to ideal, with the latest update on Tuesday night indicating a really challenging dismissal, starting with snowfall in the early afternoon.

Therefore, when the snow started to fall at 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, March 7, three hours earlier than predicted, I immediately cancelled all after school activities, sporting events, and the Board meetings. I know an early notification for parents is incredibly helpful, as I recognize that a lack of scheduled child care is a major inconvenience for folks that depend on that.

I leaned down to my Little Friend, looked him right in the eye and said, "Wow, that was a bad decision that I made yesterday, wasn't it?"

He looked me right back in the eye and said brightly, "Yeah it sure was! I love going to Community Connections!"

When I was growing up, I had this sense that adults always had the answers, because in a sense, that's how it was presented to me. Teachers were the keepers of the content and if there wasn't a family friend or an acquaintance that was interested in something that I was passionate about, and if it wasn't in the World Book Encyclopedias in my parents' living room, I was out of luck.

These days, teachers are no longer the keepers of the content and we are working on more than just identifying when the War of 1812 took place. We emphasize transferrable skills, formative evaluations, and the importance of relationships. A huge part of being in a relationship is being able to admit when you're wrong.

Don't worry, I get a chance to do that plenty - as a Husband, as a Daddy, and as a Superintendent. I hope you do too.



Sunday, March 18, 2018

These Kids Today


They are continuing to impress and inspire me more and more.

This week my fifth grade son came home on Tuesday and shared that he volunteered to be a part of a conversation at his school about safety issues. I was awed.

I remember fifth grade at Pennington-Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon, NY where I grew up. I remember Mrs. Helen DelVecchio, my fifth grade teacher. I remember some of my classmates in the 1984-1985 school year. I don't remember volunteering to be a part of a conversation about school safety.

Granted, at that time, school safety was limited to fire drills. We had a set of loud bells that would ring twice, with regularity until we all exited the building entirely. I remember being so "inspired" by fire safety that I actually made my entire family practice a fire drill from our home.

What is happening today is nothing short of transformative.

Our students are continuing to teach us. They are teaching us about civic responsibility. They are teaching us about courage. They are teaching us about democracy. They are teaching us to stand up for what you believe. They are teaching us about respect. They are teaching us about discomfort. They are teaching us about growth mindset.

Yes, they are too attached to their phones and devices. But so are we as adults.

Yes, they are over scheduled and stretched too thin at times. But so are we as adults.

Yes, they are overwhelmed and struggling with how to make their way in the world. But so are we as adults.

And they are leading us by their example.

These kids today are to be lauded. These kids today are to be recognized. These kids today are to be commended.

These kids today need to know we love them. These kids today need to know we are proud of them. These kids today need to know we have their backs.

Damn kids...


Sunday, March 11, 2018

On Greatness

This past Friday afternoon was pretty special in Montpelier High School. MHS Alum and Olympic Women's Hockey Champion Amanda Pelkey returned home from what can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime journey. The 2011 graduate was treated to a parade that began at MHS and culminated at City Hall, where she was presented with the flag that flew during her time in South Korea.

While at MHS, she was greeted in the auditorium with a long ovation from the students, faculty and staff and made some brief remarks. The first thing she said was in reference to the MHS Boys Basketball team, playing that evening in the playoffs. She spoke about her time on the Olympic Team and what it has been like since returning to the United States.

This is the closest I'll ever be to an Olympic Gold Medal

What I found most meaningful was one of the last things she said, before exiting the assembly to begin her car ride downtown. She thanked all her teachers for being patient with her, as she acknowledged that she missed a lot of school for her hockey commitments. It may have seemed like a small thing but when I connected with a couple of her teachers afterward it meant a lot.

I remember feeling upset when I got a notice letting me know that students needed to leave my class early, regardless of the reason. Part of that is accepting that so much of teaching in personal - we pour so much of ourselves into our lessons, that it feels in a way like our students are leaving us early when they miss a segment of what we are teaching. And logically, we know that is not true, but it is how we feel.

It would have been very easy for Amanda Pelkey to encourage our Boys Basketball team to victory that night, to share her journey earning an Olympic Gold Medal, tell us all about Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Ellen DeGeneres and walk out of the auditorium to her hometown parade. And she chose to be thankful to the teachers who walked with her on her educational journey. And she chose to acknowledge the fact that she missed a lot of school, given her commitment to hockey.

We will have many, many students who will miss parts or entire classes of ours, in pursuit of their passions and honestly, only a rare few will win even participate in the Olympics, let alone win a Gold Medal. I know each and every one of them has the potential to be as great as Amanda Pelkey, in their own way.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Learning From Our Students

This past Sunday, I retrieved my copy of the Burlington Free Press and was delighted to see the following cover:

Emma Harter & Nadia Scoppettone speak at the State House

The story ran in Sunday's print edition and can be viewed by clicking here.

Nationwide, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are making headlines as they call for stricter laws regarding guns, in the wake of the tragedy they experienced. In Burlington, students in the Social Justice Union earned the approval of their School Board and their high school is flying a Black Lives Matter flag on campus. Here in Montpelier, our students have started the Race Against Racism, raised a Black Lives Matter flag on campus, and are speaking out about the reality of their educational experience in a post-Columbine world. It is an honor to be learning from our students, as we navigate an incredibly dynamic and polarizing time in our country.

After a recent presentation at our local Rotary, I had a conversation with Joelyn Mensah, one of the leaders of the Racial Justice Alliance at Montpelier High School. "Dr. Ricca, can I ask you a question?" "Of course," I responded. "What changed your mind about the flag?" "You did," I told her. "What do you mean?" she asked me. "You changed my mind. Your conversations, your conviction, your rationale. That's what changed my mind."

It is a gift to be working in education in 2018. It is even more of a gift to be working with students who are thoughtful, have a sense of democracy, and are leading us. Their commitment and passion are inspiring. It is a privilege to be learning from them. 








Sunday, February 18, 2018

Enough

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.