HOW TO HELP RURAL COMMUNITIES

“I’m from the North and I can tell you what’s wrong with your schools and I can tell you how to fix them.” What are the implications of those words when folks from rural schools and communities hear that? The first thing they do is turn you off. It’s not a North/South thing it’s just the imperiousness of the tone and the know it all look that these interlopers (maybe even carpetbaggers) are giving you.

Having spent a good part of my life in rural areas, I can tell you the first set of words that come to rural people’s minds when they hear you are from another place, not their town-SUSPICION. There are no more apprehensive people than rural people when you approach them with a great desire to tell them, “the right way of doing things.”

Even when we were running scholarship programs in N.Y. West Va. and PA. And were doling out bunches of money, people were suspicious. In one small town in rural N.Y., we offered a scholarship of $50,000 over four years to a young lady. Her self-ordained minister told her that this was a gift from the devil and that she should not take it. We spoke to the guidance counselor and he told us that this self-ordained minister had impregnated his girlfriend at the senior prom.

We are both of the opinion that to be of some help to rural communities, you should spend a bunch of time learning the community. Your job is not to tell, but to listen and ask questions. People will be more than happy to help you with that the older folks will be able to tell you the history of the place. If you make yourself available to community events, just showing up, that will tell people that you really are interested in them.

It will take time and a great deal of patience. In some places it may be more closed off than others. There are so many roadblocks to a successful volunteer experience. Some people are not actually suited to a volunteer situation.

A school or school district has its own personality. The variables include such things as their history, geography, staff interest (you might be a threat), administrative interest, economics (don’t ever go into a rural school with excessive jewelry, expensive clothing and shoes, outward symbols of wealth), and traditions.

The community has to see that you will love their children. It’s easier to love the younger ones in the elementary school. It is more difficult to love the middle schoolers and the high school students. As it turns out, most volunteers wind up working with the younger children. The sad thing is that one does what one is comfortable doing. That is o.k. in a number of situations.

As you spend more time in the schools, you will realize that there are things that have to get done that you are not comfortable with. I am not speaking about subject matter, but such ancillary things as helping students apply to a college, technical school, or just listening to what they have to say.

Like any school or school district, they have their own priorities. The school district for which I was superintendent had three priorities, music, basketball and science. For a school district of 2400 students and 3 state basketball championships, many bands (and many choruses in churches and community bands) and a number of prominent science graduates were the pride of the community.

These are some of the things that a volunteer should take a look at. It might even be a good idea to go to a couple of school board meetings. Seems like a lot to do just to read to first graders. Maybe it is, but I can tell you that you will understand your children a bit more when they tell you of their problems.

WHEN THE FEDERAL MARSHALS COME

There were a number of times over the last few months I have been tempted to write political diatribes about what is going on in Washington and in our country. I have restrained myself and have concentrated on doing some writing about education in the Palmetto state. This is the first time that Carol (my wife) and I have tried to write something together.

However, when I arose this morning, done my morning ablutions and exercises, I turned on the news (probably the wrong thing to do) and saw our 45th President standing in front of a large group police folks and saying something that placed me in a state of animalistic frenzy. At that moment I was ready to reach through the television set to do something violent.

Our president told the gathered police that they should be rough when they throw people to the back of the paddy wagon. They should also, when putting these people in the back of squad cars, remove their hands from the tops of these people’s heads presumably so that they would bask their skulls on the door frames.

Is there any doubt in your mind, having followed this megalomaniac for the past few years that he is not a stable human being? As with all people of this kind, he can never face the people he is berating face to face. I was struck by the words of a 20 year marine, who is transgender, saying to the president that he wants him to go face to face with him and have the president tell her that she is “not worthy.”

There is some evidence that during his tenure in business, he never faced anyone that he was going to fire. It appears that he is doing the same thing as president. He is the quintessential bully. He appears to put other people between him and the people he want to get rid of. Follow his act with Jeff Sessions, Jim Comey, Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Sally Yates, and Preet Bharara among others.

Luckily, none of these people were taken away by the police or the palace guards. They left in a non-dignified manner, but were not manhandled.

However, this is now my most fervent dream. When the president is removed from office for obstruction of justice, or impeachment, or some other legal way, I hope that the police, the secret service or the federal marshals, do not put their hands on his head when he is shoved into the back of a police car.

AN HOMAGE TO DECENT PEOPLE

The word “decent” isn’t used much these days. Somehow, it has receded into the past as so much of our vocabulary has. I want to clarify its usage by eliminating other words that have come to replace it and not come close enough to be a synonym. Let me say that the following words are not what I mean- good, kind, charitable, religious, pious, benevolent, hardworking, etc. The closest word is mensch, a Yiddish word that literally translates into “person.”

I believe that I can only clarify the word “decent” by description. Here are a few. Lester was my maintenance supervisor when I was a school superintendent in Pennsylvania. He was an obvious Pennsylvania Dutchman with a really great accent. When the time came for speaking in Dutch, he put it on as thick as peanut butter. I do speak some Dutch and he even surprised me when was speaking to some of his friends or community residents.

Lester did not lie, nor tell stories, nor did he offer up his services for other people. He did all of the work that he had to do and did it well. He never complained and never bragged about any of his accomplishments either as a civilian or a 4 year navy veteran. He was plain spoken, a clear eyed father to his children and a wonderful husband to his wife Anna.

You always knew you could count on him in a pinch. My children loved him. We had a teacher strike during my tenure as superintendent and I worried about them being in town. I called Lester and asked if they could stay with him and Anna. He told me that he would be right over. Lester was the consummate decent man.

Tom was my attorney when we sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on behalf of 214 rural school districts. Tom worked for an upscale law firm that took the case on a fee for service and eventually, when we ran out of money, pro-bono. Tom was the lawyer for most of that time.

To speak with Tom, even now, is a treat to my ears. In his expansive role at this high class firm, in which he is now of counsel, he always answers my calls and seems to be happy to speak with me. We have gone through some tough times together.

Tom spent lots of time keeping me at an even keel. He taught me whatever I have learned about forbearance. His quiet and thoughtful ways enabled me to see clearly how we might proceed with our pleadings. In some ways, he would caution me about going out on a limb. It was never a direct statement, but some kind words in my ears.

Eventually, our Supreme Court said that our case was none of their business, even though the constitution was clear about how the state should proceed with funding. Tom had warned us that might occur, so even at the beginning of the case; he created a 501C4 corporation that cold lobby the legislature.

He was correct, our lobbying was successful and we were able to increase the state’s share of school funding to rural schools. I don’t remember Tom ever raising his voice to direct us. As a matter of fact, in the 27 years that I have known him, I have never heard him raise his voice beyond a conversational tone. He is a truly decent man.

When I came to be the executive director of a regional education service agency in western Pennsylvania, I found the financial part of the organization in a shambles. By Buck Day (hunting) in November, I fired the business manager. We then proceeded to go through the process of hiring someone to fill that position

There was something about Andy (Andrea) that struck us all in the interview. She was a plain spoken person who came from the area and had worked in the accounting department of a large company. Even though she was not familiar with public school finance, we hired her.

What we did not know at the time was that this wonderful salt of the earth person would help us make the organization a vibrant and expansive entity. I don’t believe that I can tell you the extent of her improvements, not only in the business department, but in our relations with the seventeen school districts we serviced.

Andy never pushed people to do their jobs. Her calm and plain spoken words came through to people, including school superintendents. She set up a health program for our organization and the seventeen school districts. She helped the business offices in many of our districts. It appeared that she could just about do anything.

There was something that occurred on a regular basis that made all of us understand how she dealt with problems. Our executive staff, five of us, exclusive of Andy, had all been in education. Our once a week staff meetings were education oriented. It became obvious to me that we were speaking in a language that Andy was not conversant with. One day, a few weeks into her tenure, Andy came to see me.

She looked at me and said, “Arnold, I have no idea sometimes what we are talking about at staff meetings.” She suggested that we go out for dinner once in a while, drink a glass of wine, and answer her questions. I was both flabbergasted and delighted.

We did go out for dinner a number of times at the beginning of our working relationship. After a while, Andy knew what we were talking about. That symbolized Andy. She was bright enough to understand that she needed to solve that problem. Her demeanor was one of quietude and Western Pennsylvania speech.

Of all the folks that I worked with at that time, I miss her the most. Unfortunately, the year that I left, a stroke felled her. She was unconscious for 3 months. When she awoke, she was unable to speak, read or write or do anything computational. At that point, she and her boyfriend of many years married. He took care of Andy and still does to his very day.

I think of her often these days. She was the quintessential decent person.

NEAL MADE ME DO IT

NEAL MADE ME DO IT !!!

The other day, my good friend Neal, reminded me that I had not written a blog in a while. I looked back at the dates and he was correct. For some reason I was paying attention to home life more than my obligations to Jean Jacques Crawb. So, you can blame Neal for this blog and any mistakes that I might make in it.

Since this is Neal’s idea, it will also be his blog. Carol and I met Neal and his wife Mary when we moved to Harrisburg and joined a temple there. I believe that we hit it off right away because of our senses of humor. At that point Neal and Mary had a little boy Ben, who was about two and Mary was ready to give birth to twins. I can still see them lying on the floor of their living room cooing and laughing.

Neal and I both got onto the Temple Board at about the same time. He eventually became the treasurer. However, that’s not the highlight of his career. He and I used to fool around at board meetings and probably drove some people crazy. It’s not as if we were fooling around, but we each had views that were at variance with the majority of the board.

Now you must understand that Neal and I do not share political views. He is a real conservative (not like the common term used today). He is for smaller government, individual enterprise, and fairness to those who need help. I am more to the left of center (you probably knew that) and we would actually discuss these topics before, during and after the board meetings.

Neal used to drive Carol crazy when she spent 3 years as president of the synagogue. He would make her laugh and lose track of what she was trying to do. Neal is not just a talker. He is a doer of the highest order. He was able to computerize our synagogue, put our budget on it, create a homepage, and organize painting the entire downstairs (social room) of the synagogue. Help his son Ben and Friends to build a handicap ramp on the side of the building. He honchoed so many things that made our temple a better place.

Lately, during the summer, the entire clan comes to Myrtle Beach, SC and meets us in Charleston. Neal used to complain that he could not get Whoopie Pies in Harrisburg. So, we sent him a couple of boxes. When we meet in Charleston, there is a Whoopie Pie General Store. He buys a bunch.

The twin girls, Rachel and Nancy have graduated from college. Cannot believe that they are as old as they are. Nancy works at a local hospital in Harrisburg. Rachel does her thing with a marketing company and in her spare time she does a website for South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools (SCORS). They are both delightful young women. Yes, they do have that twin thing and are so close to each other. Rachel just purchased a house and Nancy lives there too.

All of this does not explain Neal and his family. Mary, his wife, is a one of a kind person. There are no limits to her ability to keep track of her family, which also includes her mom. There is much of her in the twins and in her son Ben, who will be married soon.

We keep in touch with everyone including Mary’s mom Mary. They are a delight to be around. Maybe we can con them into moving to Charleston.