IN WHOM DO SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS CONFIDE?

A couple of us have been school superintendents. We sometimes talk about our experiences during those times. One question that seems to come up more often than one would think is, did you have someone with whom you could confide. We dredged up a bunch of answers that would come to mind, besides your family.

The interesting part of the list is that it is very small. Having spoken to a large number of school superintendents over the years, it appears that there is a paucity of confidantes along the way.

There are cautionary tales about confiding in school board members. Not that there are none in that class that would hold onto confidences. However, most believe that it really can’t work because there is a line of demarcation between boards and their superintendents. The professional relationship seems to put a crimp in the personal relationship.

Staff in the school is even a smaller number. You may have some social occasions in which you fraternize with staff, but there is always a case for not fraternizing. Others might look at that and describe the relationships as favoritism. That does not have any long time advantages.

How about people in the community? If these folks have children in school, you run afoul of getting a call from a neighbor complaining about something or other. “Do you know what Principal Smith said to my son?” That is not the beginning of a friendship. We have experienced that in triplicate.

So when you really need someone to talk to, who it? Some supes rely on their state organizations. A call to them sometimes gets you a willing ear and maybe an answer to your problem.  It is often surprising to find someone at that level who has run across that very same problem and may have an answer.

There are a myriad of other possibilities- school district solicitors, legislators, department of education staff, ministers, priests, imams, rabbis, and others.

The last group of people, and not in any order, is other school superintendents. Your confreres most often give you a willing ear and may have some solutions because they have gone through the same thing. Many superintendents are hesitant about asking their peers. Sometimes don’t want to admit failure. Young superintendents are more likely to seek out a mentor. However, those who have been in the saddle for a while play things close to the vest.

As you have surmised, it is a mix of people who might be of help to you. The superintendency is a very difficult job. It is now so much more public than it had been in previous times. The pressure seems to grow daily. Not sure what the average tenure of a superintendent is in SC, but it is less than four years for rural superintendents.

The most frustrating thing of all is what happens when you are either canned, or retire. One would think that the brother/sisterhood would flock around you to offer their shoulder for you to cry on (we do know that superintendents don’t cry). This is sometimes true even when you are in a problem that makes its way into the media. How many times do you get a call telling you that this is something that can be worked out and an offer of help? This happens very rarely. If you do have supes who do that, hold them close.

 

 

 

 

 

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HELLO AGAIN RACISM

 

You knew it was roiling under a thin surface. It is now as blatant as can be. The garbage pile of racism has now flowered under the umbrella of populism, nationalism and that crapwagon of old anti-globalism. It happens with frequent regularity every couple of decades and usually ends in some kind of war or other conflagration.

The newest poster boys for this sort of hatred is Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and now our good buddy Vladimir Putin. If you have not kept up with Bannon, he is fiercely rebranding himself as the chief racist across the globe. Although his brand was blemished here in the U.S., he has popped up in Europe at a gathering of Marie LePen’s ultra right party in France.

His new slogan is, “Wear your racist badge proudly.” Whatever his goals are, they are antithetical to most human beings on earth. He talks about freedom in a way that coddles dictators and the lowest form of humanity. His vision of history is so skewed that it could be played on the Sci-Fi channel as proto history. He probably is delighted with films that portray what would have happened if the Nazis would have won World War II.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a racist, no matter what his family or apologists say. His comments after Charlottesville that there are good people on both sides of a racist gathering is mind boggling. His attempts to diminish all ethnic groups, and other religious groups, save evangelical Christians is clearly documented. His pronouncement to a group of Jewish businessmen that all Jews are skilled at making deals is an obvious rewording of a medieval view of the Jewish people. Not sure how people like Sheldon Adelson, Gary Cohn, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Ivanka and her children can tolerate him.

Now we come to the piece de resistance. Vladimir has finally announced to the world what we all really knew. He is a pure racist. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” Putin told NBC’s Megyn Kelly. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”

Vlad, do you have any idea what you have said about your own country. Evidently, the only real citizens of Russia are ethnic Russians. That ought to please all of the other ethnic groups. Since there are only 146 million pure Russians and the others are just hangers on, the puries could not have done this meddling. Come on Vlad, you said you are far away from the U.S. so that it would be impossible to meddle. You also claim that the U.S. meddled in your elections. I believe you have not taken your medications yesterday in your interview with Megyn Kelly.

Let’s take a look at Russian Ukrainians which represent 1.4% of the population and Tatars which represent the largest ethnic group. So let’s see since there are a total of 185 identified ethnic groups in the Russian Federation, he mentions the two largest and the Jews.

Nice touch Vlad (the impaler), get everyone on board with the other Jew haters and anti-Semites in other countries and identify them as non-card carrying real Russians and alongside of the 600 lb. person lying in a bed who could have done the meddling. Or, was there meddling done by the secret governmental organizations.

Great to see all of these real patriots parlaying ultra nationalism, anti- governmental coalitions like the EU, with the Nazis, anti-Semites, populists, KKK, and others in a brotherhood of hatred.

Right Vlad, you really don’t know anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A TEACHER, A COACH AND AN INSPIRATION

 

Nykierra Scott and Ashiana Scott (not related) are 8th graders at the Hardeeville-Ridgeland Middle School, and they are winners. They are both on the school’s Honor Roll and have been for the past 3 terms. They play on the middle school’s outstanding basketball team, the Lady Canes (short for Hurricanes).

 

According to Coach Wes Estock, “ The Lady Canes completed a successful 2017-18 campaign. They capped off a perfect 16-0 season with the I-95 Championship, defeating St. George Middle School in a 43-32 victory. The team was also crowned the Colleton County Christmas Tournament Champs for the second time in three years and I-95 Regular Season League Champs.”

 

So far as I can tell, there are four reasons why these girls and the other members of their team: Farrah Doe, Janiyah Chaneyfield, Kayona Deloach, Lataye Walker, Daisy Taylor, Nia King, Deanna Douglas, Tatyana Heyward, Jalasia Polite, Mikaila Darien, and Makayla Fields are winners.

 

First, Coach Estock, who moved South from Pennsylvania three years ago, teaches history at the middle school. He is a terrific motivator, setting high standards and enforcing them. He and one of his assistant coaches, Angel Spencer, decided three years ago when they started coaching, that they needed to establish a winning culture. Their mission revolves around Faith, Family, Education and Friends. Estock is always on the lookout for athletic girls in 7th or 8th grade. He does not limit himself to girls who are already successful in school. When he sees a girl who might benefit his team, he takes that girl aside and talks to her about playing. The overwhelming number of girls on his teams have never played basketball before.

 

Nykierra Scott admits, “After the second day of tryouts I went up to Coach Estock’s room and told him that I quit. He talked to me for about a half hour about everything but basketball. He even told me if I didn’t want to learn to play, I should not try to join the team because you can only be a good player if you love the sport enough to work very hard. After that, I decided I didn’t want to let Coach down, so I stayed on. He works us really hard at practice and that’s why we win. My first year, when we were in 7th grade, we didn’t know how to play. We were 3 and 11, awful! But now we are champions.”

 

Estock keeps after his team. He checks their grades almost every day and uses his planning periods to tutor anyone who is not doing well.

 

In addition to coaching the Lady Canes, he coaches a Travel Team (AAU – Amateur Athletic Union) that spends many weekends during the off-season, from February to July, playing teams from all around the South. The parents help with the driving and Estock makes sure when they play on a college campus, that everyone tours the college. When they play in a city, like Nashville, he takes all the families into town and shows them around. Estock knows how important it is for his girls to have new experiences.

 

The second ingredient necessary for success is family. Both girls come from families that value hard work, good grades, being responsible, being respectful and making the most of opportunities. Families tell the girls they are proud of them and make their children’s success a priority.

 

When I expressed concern about the expense of playing on the Travel Team, where parents must pay for gas, food and even hotel rooms, Estock explained that, “For the most part families pay their way and if a girl can’t afford the travel costs, that’s where our fundraising kicks in.” He smiles and shrugs when he adds, “That’s what my tax refund goes to, but these people have become my family.”
The third ingredient is making the connection between your own effort and your own success. The Lady Canes are not afraid to get dirty, sweaty or even hurt on the court. They’ve been scratched, shoved and even, on one occasion, bitten. Ashiana and Nykierra agree that many of their classmates want to be “pretty girls” who care deeply about their hair and their nails. They don’t want to get sweaty and dirty. “The Lady Canes are pretty girls, but not when we are playing basketball,” the two insist.  They continue, “When you are wearing that shirt with your name on it and your number on the back, people expect more of you and you don’t want to disappoint them.”

 

I asked the girls how they react when they feel a referee has made a bad call against their team. They explained, “We are there to play the best basketball we can. We are not refs and we can’t do anything about the refs. Our job is to play good ball.”

 

The last ingredient in becoming a success is very hard to define. It’s that special something- a mixture of determination, pride, talent and courage. It’s a willingness and maybe even the strength, to try something new and work at it until you master it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a little good luck.

 

THIS IS A POLITICAL THING, REMEMBER I WARNED YOU- THE FINAL PART

Since Jim was a friend, we never stood on ceremony. If he needed me for something, he never hesitated to call on a moment’s notice. If I ever needed to use the office for anything, it was mine. There were many times, when Jim would just want to talk about things. One day he called me and sounded very upset over the phone. He said (not asked) for me to come over immediately. I could not fathom what was wrong.

When I got to the office, he grabbed me by the arm, placed me in the elevator (and I mean placed) and took me down to the capitol garage to get into his car. We drove northeast towards his hometown of Mahanoy City and stopped at a closed diner along the way. We got out and he knocked on the closed diner door. The proprietor, and asked to come in and have something to eat. Both of us had not had any food since breakfast.

When we sat down, I said, “Come on Jim, what is this all about?” He lowered his head and asked, “Am not a conservative? My colleagues tell me that I am too liberal to be a conservative.” I paused and said, “Let me give you the test. Are you anti-abortion?” “Yes, said.” “Are you for small government?” “Yes I am” he intoned?” “Are you in any way interested in gun control?” “No I’m not!” he exclaimed forcefully.

I asked him four or five additional questions. “Jim you are most certainly a conservative.” Now that we are through with that, I told him, the answer to your question is that your colleagues, who make these pronouncements are not really conservatives, they are reactionaries.

I cannot tell you that the look on his face was beaming, but he seemed to be satisfied. His work in pre-school legislation and school funding over the years of his chairmanship exemplified at willingness to make things right for rural schools and all school children. Even today, the legislature and the Governor have no idea how he did it, not why. The money is still there for rural schools and has been grandfathered. I really miss the guy. Though he is no longer with us, the things that he did are still there.

(As an aside)I cannot conclude without pointing out that there were and are still Republicans who have a feeling for rural kids. One happens to be the woman who represents the area in which our family lived. Her name is Donna Oberlander and both she and her husband went to high school with our children. Yes, Donna is a Republican, and a pretty powerful one.

I know that Paula Hess will read this and I have to turn to her and say that she and Jan Bissett{god rest her soul}, a Democrat, while Paula is a Republican, kept education together in the House of Representatives for many years. They worked behind the scene to calm waters and get clean legislation together for the benefit of all children in Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS IS GOING TO BE POLITICAL, AT LEAST I WARNED YOU.

As a registered Republican, I have felt that rural people have more of a chance of climbing up the food chain (in Pennsylvania) when the R’s are in charge. In recent years, the D’s have almost completely forgotten about the one third of the population that lives in non-metro areas. That is until after the 2016 election cycle.

 

Back when I had some smack in helping rural people in my job, it was always interesting to me, how my go to people were always Republicans. Prior to those days, I was registered as an independent. I hate to tell you that I voted for Mr. Nixon in 1960 because I thought that Mr. Kennedy was going to get us into a war in Vietnam. I had just come out of the service and was scared s***less about being called up from the reserves (I was obligated to 4 more years of reserve service after my 2 years in the Army).

As I moved to PA and got involved in education in rural areas, I looked for help from anyone who would listen to me. There were certainly people who were Dems that had some thoughts about the folks out in the hinterlands, but they were just fleeting thoughts. In the main, those who thought and acted directly on the welfare of the places I lived were R’s.

These thoughts did not come to me all at once. I kept trying to find anyone that I could to help out. When I moved out to Western PA, the area had 27% unemployment. I had not realized that when I took the job. PA had just changed its laws to allow governors to serve two terms. Milton Shapp had been the first governor to serve two terms. He was a progressive, but his administration was not square and lots of shady things happened during his tenure.

I was not a particular fan of Richard Thornburgh. He was from Western PA, but not the enthusiastic kind of fellow that I had really wanted. He had surrounded himself with a coterie of really mean guys. I mean mean. I met most of them as I looked for some help for my special education children and my services to seventeen rural school districts over 3,000 square miles.

The advantage that I had with the Governor was that his wife Ginny had a special education child and was a force to be reckoned with. Having been invited to the Governor’s home as part of my job, I got to meet both her and her husband. They appeared to be interested in what I had to say. I slipped a simple economic development plan into the Governor’s hands when I met him. My good friend and colleague, Mike Vereb, had produced a rather simple and provincial plan that called for being really economically selfish.

The plan was to inquire from local businesses where they got their products from. Then take a product and see if it could be created (manufactured) locally. Some would see that as a really dumb idea, but it turned out to be pretty smart. Dick Thornburgh thought it was good enough to send one of his economic development guys out to meet with us and some local business people to suggest how it might work.

George Werner was amazed at the kind of businesses that were out our way. Of course, right next door was Pennzoil and Quaker State and Brockway Glass and an Owens Illinois plant (they would all leave or downsize). He understood what was happening and made certain suggestions and put us in touch with their economic development people.

As I looked through our financial situation, I came to the conclusion that, among the 29 regional educational service agencies in PA, we were the most underfunded in the area of special education. Actually, we were the most underfunded in all areas.

The then Secretary of Education was Dr. Robert Wilburn. He was a special person. He had been at Chase Manhattan Bank, had been President of Indiana University of PA and was a true Western Pennsylvania person. He was and is a truly brilliant guy.

By the time that I had perused our meager funds, I was really pissed off. These organizations across the state (called Intermediate Units), were only 12 years old and here we were at the bottom. What really galled me was that our office was a former 15 minute motel. You are probably asking, “Why the hell did you take the job?” I can tell you that our children were given the choice of where I would interview. They saw the listings of administrative jobs across the state and chose this one as a possibility.

Through Mrs. Thornburgh (Ginny), my special education Director, Charlie Wall, and I made an appointment with Bob Wilburn. We had created a cartoonish cover for the numbers we had whomped up with a character drowning and called in HELP.

Bob Wilburn has a mile of patience. I know it not only from that meeting but from other occasions, both social and otherwise. He is someone you never want to lose. He listened to my rantings and ravings for a couple of hours (yes a couple of hours). At the end of my tirade, I looked at him and asked, “So what are you going to do about it?” He calmly looked across the table and said. “I am going to give you a million and a half dollars. He did.

The following year the Department of Education changed the way it distributed funds according to a revamped formula which not only helped us, but also other rural intermediate units.

Senator John Heinz was one of the nicest and classiest guys that I ever met. He had a wonderful sense of humor and someone who understood rural Pennsylvania. Since he was a Pittsburgh guy, he didn’t have to travel far to get to areas in PA that most people don’t get to, unless they are avid outdoors people.

I had a chance to meet with him through our local Congressman Bill Clinger (more about him later). His staff was very cordial and helpful. There were always questions about federal programs and new regulations. They were quick to try and get me some answers.

Here are two kind of funny stories that characterize a man, no longer with us, but still ensconced in my mind. For some reason, Mike Vereb and a local cable and trailer park entrepreneur, along with a county commissioner, Keith Martin, had concocted a plan, worked out by Mike, that our area would be the center of low flush toilet bowls. The parts would be manufactured by a Finnish (I think) conglomerate and we would establish a put together plant.

The company seemed to be interested in what was proposed. They even sent us some already put together toilets to sell. I even put one in my house. We thought that this was such a great idea, that I contacted Senator Heinz’s office and asked them if they had any intention of coming up our way. They actually said yes, that they would be near us in a few weeks and asked what we wanted.

I am not sure if they believed us, or thought that we were crazy. We gave them the address of the place where we could display the bowls and got a time from them. They actually showed up on time and the Senator’s eyes lit up. Remember, he was the scion of a very large enterprise and was not unfamiliar with economic development. He also thought that the whole idea of low flush toilets was both funny and water saving. We kidded around for about an hour and his staff was really upset that he was taking so much time. He would be late for his next appointment. We bid him adieu and he wished us luck and offered any help that he could give. The end of that story is bleak. The Finns took their plant to Mexico.

The next time I saw John Heinz was on a blustery October day. The Clarion County area and its beautiful foliage held a week of celebration of Autumn Leaf Days. As a member of Rotary, we were all involved in a roast chicken effort close to the county building in the middle of Clarion. As I remember that day, it was rife with chicken and charcoal smells. At the end of the day, we would usually throw our coats and other clothes away because of the odor.

I was standing near the chicken spit when I looked up and there coming down the stairs were Bill Clinger, my congressman and Senator Heinz. They looked down and saw me and I waved. Then to my consternation, they began to walk towards me. If you can imagine, the smoke from our chicken doings wafted around everywhere. It was particularly heavy where the two gentlemen were walking.

I can see, even today, that John Heinz was wearing a Grey Chesterfield coat. He was smiling, as I was trying to wave him off. Bill Clinger was also smiling and striding towards me. The came over and both shook my hand. The clouds of smoke still billowed around us and other members of Rotary came over to say hello to them. I don’t think I can ever get that scene out of my mind. When Bill Clinger said, “See you Arnie,” it felt as if I had been involved in something special. It was the last time that I saw John Heinz in person.

Now let me describe Bill Clinger and Rick Peltz. Bill Clinger was a Congressman from Western PA. He held the seat from 1979-1997. He was a graduate of U. of Virginia and Johns Hopkins law school. He was not a small timer in business. He was President of New Process in Warren, PA. He was a wealthy guy. He is also a member of the retired R’s who penned a letter saying that Donny Little Hands was wholly unfit to be President of the United States (2016).

Coming from a rural area, he understood those areas were not the focus of either state or federal programs. There were a number of times when trying to shoehorn into program, I would call Bill or Rick Peltz and say, “This is a great program, but it only fits big population centers, anything you can do to fix that.” Guess what, most of the time they did.

When I asked Bill to be somewhere, he would do his best to be there. We also showed him our toilet bowls and he was enthused. Wish it had worked out. His positive attitude infected me, so that I thought things can get done. When federal regulations seemed abhorrent to me, I had a willing ear in either Rick or the Congressman.

Rick Peltz was Congressman Clinger’s executive director. He handled all of the staff in Warren and most times in Washington. He is and was one of the nicest people I have ever met. I got to know Rick on a personal basis throughout my tenure in Western PA. Rick was a people person. We had intimate knowledge of rural Pennsylvania and there was never a time that Rick did not put himself on the line to help me.

His entreaties on behalf of his congressional district, the largest in size east of the Mississippi, was far ranging. He would help anyone who asked or send them to the right person. He and I would meet, sometime in Corry, PA to discuss things and find out what the other person was doing. Rick had an advantage in the education field. His mom was a longtime teacher in Warren, PA. His understanding of what I needed went far beyond what a congressman’s aide would know.

Rick kept me informed about what was happening in Washington D.C. and I would let him in on what was happening to my 3000 square miles of heaven. Sometimes these stories intersected and we could get some things done.

There is one story I will never forget. At a time when Carol and I were running the McKelvey Scholarship program in PA, NY and West VA, we had done a great deal of traveling in southern West Virginia. We had looked at poverty and median incomes in all of the West Virginia counties. We picked about ten and then started to give out scholarships. One was McDowell County an impoverished coal county to the south in West Virginia. You may remember the book called, “The Rocket Boys,” or the movie “October Sky.”

Sonny Hickam, who later helped to design rockets for NASA was born in the county and went to Big Creek High School. Carol and I and Dena McKelvey spent a bunch of time there. One of the high schools had an auditorium space, with electric wires and pipes hanging down, but not auditorium. Rick asked us if we could drive down to a very rural place in West Virginia. He was then the co- exec. of the Appalachian Regional Commission. We agreed.

When we appeared at the high school, don’t remember if it was Big Creek or Welch, We took Rick into the almost auditorium. He was aghast. How could that be? Rick went back to Washington and set aside 3 million dollars for the high school to complete the auditorium. I have no idea where Rick is now. He began a trip around the country with his wife and I have not heard from him since.

State Senator James J. Rhoades was a good friend. We did not hang around socially, but had known each other when we were both junior high school principals. Jim was a big rawboned coal cracker former football player. He was a true conservative, and a great human being. He always referred to students as “boys and girls.” He said those words hundreds of times in print and in speeches in front of his colleagues in the state senate. He was also chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

HOW DUMB CAN YOU BE?

When emails first began in the early 1990’s, I had a feeling that there would be a serious problem when everyone was going to be communicating in this way. Such providers as Compuserve and Hotmail later on, never told you that what you were emailing was confidential.

It was fun to communicate with your friends, family and later professional acquaintances.

In the pit of my stomach, I felt that whatever I wrote could find its way into the world. I had this feeling augmented when a friend of mine pushed a button and sent an email to a group of school superintendents with a misogynistic message. The group contained about 8 women.

It further concerned my when the service that I was using, a private server, that my emails could find their way into the net and be seen by almost everyone.

I felt the same way about texts. They could be on the front page of the newspapers as soon as they were written. Now that I am retired and typing this blog, I am no longer worried about how people perceive me. However, I am still very careful about what I email or text or twitter.

I am amazed when I read that powerful people have no idea that their communications could be hacked and presented to the world in all their naked glory.

This is not just about the Russian hackers, or the Chinese or Iranian hackers, it’s about all of us. How can there be any kind of confidentiality when your words can be strewn everywhere. You can make mistakes and say things that might infuriate your own family or friends. You must be mindful of what you say and read everything over twice.

Think you are smarter than that. How about the Russian government type who has been insinuating himself into the NRA and governmental entities? Did he not understand that the 150,000 tweets wouldn’t be discovered over time linking him to nefarious things that he has been doing?

I can only say, “How dumb can you be?” Oops, let me read this thing again.