“A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
I am sure the entire Paris area knows by now, it is with mixed emotions and a lot of excitement that I announce my resignation from the position of director of Paris High School. I have accepted the position of superintendent of Morrisonville Community Unit School District No. 1. My last day in the office at Paris High School will be June 30, 2017.
It is hard to know exactly what to say about a decision to leave a place you have loved to work for the past 28 years. Paris High School is a place where I have worked alongside some of the best people: the kind who made me a better person everyday. It was a place where I knew my own children were safe and challenged to become their very best. I do know that I have been very blessed by my decision to come here to teach back in 1989.
The experiences I have had here are invaluable! I was lucky enough to work for The State of Illinois’ first cooperative high school and be a part of a team that oversaw the design and construction of an amazing new campus. Every day I was able to work with outstanding people who really cared about students and did their best to challenge and engage them in innovative ways. I had the incredible support of a great Board of Education and cooperating superintendents. BUT…best of all, I was entrusted with the safety and education of some of the most amazing young men and women! I will miss you all very much!
The decision to leave here was not an easy one. For many years I have had held the credentials to be a superintendent of schools and have had the goal of eventually becoming one. Now that my children have finished their public education, my wife and I have decided it is time for me to pursue my goal of working for an educational community as a school superintendent. I am excited, and even though that excitement is tempered with the thought of leaving the only location I have ever worked as an educator, I know it is the right time for me to go. I will never forget the wonderful people that have supported my family and me, you simply are the best!
There will always be a part of me that bleeds orange and black!
I have been troubled the past 24 hours or so. I have this feeling that there is an important lesson from experience to be taught to a group of young men and women, but I am not sure I am the one to do it, or if the principle I think is important is valued by society today. I am willing to admit that I am of a generation that is pretty far removed from being young….(see how I have to admit to being old?) but I am sure that what defines excellence and being a winner has not changed. We watched the Patriots come back from a record Super Bowl deficit to earn their fifth world championship ring of the current era. That is a phenomenal accomplishment! They have become the penultimate example of winning and excellence. I want that same excellence to be a goal for our students and student athletes. Winning is an attitude. Winning is a work ethic. Winning is dedicating both mind and body to TRY to do what it takes (ethically) to be successful and reach a predetermined goal. I have never seen a winner that spends more time talking about why they don’t win than talking about what they need to do to get better. Winners do not spend more time and energy talking trash than giving their opponent a tenacious opposition between the lines. Above all, a true sportsperson is about competing at a high level and making themselves and their team mates better each time they have the opportunity. Great competitors do not always have the winning score on the board at the end of a game, but their opponents know they had true competition and respect the effort. Spectators at games should also work to encourage their team to do their best, applaud them when they do well, and encourage them when the team needs a lift. If a spectator feels the need to show up an opponent, put in the work, pull on the uniform, and do your talking between the lines!
Sitting here on a Saturday morning following a week of protest, turmoil, and violence has me in a deep state of reflection. Why do we turn on each other? Why do people that have so much more in common than differences chose to see only the differences? From the nastiness of our presidential campaign rhetoric, the gratuitous violence in entertainment, and the real violence on our streets, one does really wonder at times about what in the world are we headed for. Our family’s experience over the past year and half has allowed us to see the other side of human nature, thank goodness! Once people in our community (and beyond) found out that our son was gravely ill, the outpouring of care and concern has really lifted us. The efforts of so many to help comfort us will never be forgotten and has played no small part in the fact that our son is still with us! There have been so many things done on the behalf of my family that there is no way I can begin to think about them without being overwhelmed by the compassion showered upon us! There have been fundraisers, meal trains, hats passed in church, gift cards, monetary gifts, shoulders to cry on, dishes washed, clothes cleaned, school tasks completed…etc!!!! The list could go for paragraphs! Complete strangers have sent us care boxes, the community held a bone marrow donor drive. The town in which we live gets run down a lot, both from those from the outside and those who live here. I will tell you this, there is has never been a more generous place in my life experience. I am completely humbled by the efforts of this community! Thank you! I can only hope I can pay forward your amazing kindness. There is hope! Humankind has a great capacity for love and generosity and this place is a great example of that!
Yesterday I wrote in my post “Where Have I Been?” about my child becoming quite ill in October of 2014. The post was written with the assumption that most of those who would read it already knew how he was doing presently. Sorry to those who have an interest in this story but were left wondering about his status. For those of you who know the story, you are excused from reading further. My wonderful spouse has written a much more cogent and readable blog about our experience called Blessings in Disguise. If you have not read the musings of my wife Marianne, I suggest you should! My purpose here is not to talk about his journey through a medical nightmare, but to try to apply the lessons learned and share the thoughts that streamed through my conscience during his many days in the hospital. For those that are curious, here is a very brief synopsis of what he has experienced. He was diagnosed with an undefined immune disorder in which his natural killer cells did not function normally in 2012. Which means when he gets sick, HE GETS SICK! Not really sick more often, but out for long periods of time when he does get sick with what was usually a bronchial infection or pneumonia. When he became really ill in October of 2014, he was initially diagnosed with meningitis, but when no infectious agent was found, he was diagnosed with neuro-sarcoidosis. When the normal treatments to combat sarcoidosis did not make him better, further investigation found a MAC infection in his lung. Which came first? The MAC infection or sarcoidosis? We will never know. He responded well to treatment of the MAC infection. He felt good enough to finish his senior year and give a speech at commencement while graduating with highest honors. In the Fall of 2015, he started school at one of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate engineering schools. He was able to complete one quarter of his freshman year. On the third day of the second quarter he called and said he could not catch his breath, and walking anywhere was next to impossible because he was so fatigued. He was admitted to the hospital and after several weeks of medical testing, he was diagnosed with AML Leukemia. He was given a round of chemotherapy to put it in remission. The team treating him scheduled a bone marrow transplant to generate a “new and healthy” immune system. The transplant was three months ago. He is home now, recovering from the transplant and the effects of the chemotherapy that was used to “kill” his defective immune system. The good news is that he is (knock on wood) making progress towards recovery. He has good days and bad but his recovery looks very good according to the doctors. We have hope! (next….I promise I will start talking about the kinds of lessons that can be taken from an experience like this!)
I am a very lucky educator. I have the opportunity be a part of building a new school for our learning community. What an awesome task, responsibility, and opportunity. As part of this undertaking, I have been able to visit modern schools and not only see the physical spaces, but also observe the learning activities that occur in them. It was so interesting hear to a lead science teacher tell us about students studying cancer cells and looking for ways to disrupt their growth. She told us how one particular student had the opportunity to work with bacteria and try to disrupt their communication patterns. His research had progressed so far that he was able to meet with several Nobel Prize winning scientists at science exposition that he was invited to attend. At first I was amazed that high school students were involved is this kind of research, but as it these stories sunk in, I could not help but feel that the students in my school were being robbed of these types of learning opportunities. Should we simply say we cannot afford to put in a laboratory where this type of research can be done and leave it at that? I am determined to find a way that our students who wish to study and research such topics can do so in a local lab. At the very least, we must build spaces that promote active learning where Science is a verb and students can explore and discover. Active learning must take place in all subject areas and we must seek to integrate them where we can.
The above photos were taken in Niles North High School’s state of the art STEM lab. It is a large learning space with a corner “think tank”. This is where short, whole group learning activities take place such as a like a mini lecture or a student presentation. The makeup of the room shows what is important–active learning. The rest of the space is dominated by large tables, deep sinks, and a multitude of tools to experiment with. A scientist’s dream. We will not be able to replicate this room. I am not so sure we would want to, but we need to see that learning spaces need to be flexible to accommodate different kinds of learning and learners.
Some of the schools we have visited have been very traditional. The learning environments were not much different than what we have used in our school for the last 100+ years. Rooms as boxes, filled with student desks, and a central learning focus that cast the teacher as information giver/subject expert. Other schools have moved away from the traditional design and have spaces that suggest other models of learning.
The four photos above were take at the the Columbus Signature Academy High Tech High. The school uses a project based approach to engage its students. What stood out to me at this school was how the student work and the vision of students collaborating were the architectural features. Learning studios were transparent with movable glass hallway walls, that when moved created very large learning spaces for large group instruction or presentations. The hallways were filled with different seating configurations. Some of them resembled restaurant booths, others were library like configurations with comfortable furniture. Design shaping function or function shaping design….either way the way students learn in these environments reflects a social, transparent, and integrated approach that allows students to do real, meaningful work in ways they will outside of the “school” when they matriculate to other endeavors. Exciting times indeed!
I have found myself immersed the past three years in a new school building project. Being a part of the team that oversaw the creation of the new building has been an exhilarating experience. I am excited about the new learning environment and the possibilities for our community. Today was the last day of student attendance in the old building located at 309 South Main Street in Paris, IL. I will have to say that I found myself to be very emotional as the day ended. I guess you don’t just shut the book on 26 years in one place without feeling some kind of attachment to it. Those feelings inspired this attempt to catch the moment. I hope you enjoy!