Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Ya Mon, No Problem" A State of Being

Recently, I had the opportunity to take a trip with my wife to Jamaica ( *left the children with grandparents and aunt Stef and Uncle Jim). For us, this was the first time we vacationed without the children and truth be told, this was the first time we had been away in 13 years. Overdue is an understatement. For many, you know exactly what I am talking about. The demands of parenthood and career often exhaust even the mightiest among us.

During this last school year, I calculated that I attended nearly 100 night &/or evening/weekend school events in addition to the normal demands of the work week. For me, this last year was especially challenging. I can't put my finger on exactly why it was so challenging, but I think it was partly because it was the third year of my first three year contract in MPS. The first year was awesome, hometown kid returns - spirits and expectations were high. When I made mistakes, they were  more easily forgiven because most were happy to have a "Millville Guy" running the district. I listened a lot and tried to determine what the most critical areas for improvement were. Developed a strategic plan in collaboration with my board - and we were all on the same page! The second year was spent working diligently to put the systems in place that would allow for real change and improvement. While this was tough work, it was also extremely exciting and rewarding to see the staff engaged in striving for the district vision to be "world class". In this last year, I was personally frustrated that the desired changes did not seem to come fast enough. I was also bogged down in state/federal mandates and trying to stay ahead of the never ending paper work. Communications with the board and staff could certainly have been better on my part as well. Ultimately, the honey moon ended in year two and the overwhelming enormity of driving authentic school improvement in a district our size consumed me. Standing on the stage for our commencement 2013, I was likely more relieved that the year was ending than the graduates so I could regroup.

Being a school superintendent is like being a major league free agent, minus ESPN, Fame, Fortune, and the cool uniforms. You live your life in 3 or 5 year cycles. If you are lucky, your board of education is stable - and they like you. But every 3 years, in my case, the prospect of becoming unemployed is a reality. There is little job security in being the chief. I am happy to share that my board and I came to an agreement for a new three year contract. With that out of the way, I am committed to continuing what I've started with a renewed positive energy - new momentum - and excited to pursue the district vision to be world class like my hair was literally on fire!

A few days following graduation, I left for my Jamaican adventure with my wife. I am so happy that we made the time and saved up for this trip as it was amazing. If you have never been to Jamaica, I highly recommend you go. The Jamaican culture offers many great lessons. First, every person you come in contact with (minus one woman who worked for customs) had a smile on their face and greeted you warmly. To almost every question, you heard the reply "Ya mon, no problem". To them, there is no request or issue that can't be solved to your satisfaction. And while yes, they are paid to be friendly, we met countless locals who were not employed or looking for money with the same positive outlook. Additionally, how many people do you know (or work with) who are being paid but aren't friendly or happy?!? The national motto in Jamaica is, "Out of Many, One People". This 'vision' is evident in the culture. Regardless of how diverse they each may be, they are much stronger if they work as one. For us in the States, we are brought up to celebrate individual accomplishments - to compete - "survival of the fittest" but perhaps there is more to be gained, if instead, we worked together - if we adopted the attitude of "yes we can - and there is no problem or challenge that we can't overcome together".

I know many outside of education think that we all have the summers off - but we know better, I am so  excited about this summer. I feel refreshed, positive, and determined to achieve the district's vision to be world class. Our kids deserve nothing less.

Later Mon!