Category Archives: Personal

A Kansas Storm

I grew up in central Kansas, where (for better or for worse) dark stormy skies were more likely to draw me outside with my dad — than send me for cover in the basement. I’ve seen big storms, I’ve cleaned up the mess they leave, and I’ve helped rebuild in the weeks and months after. It’s part of the Kansas experience that has shaped me.

Over the past 22 years, I’ve worked in Kansas public schools. Over two decades in any profession, there will be highs and lows. Times when you can’t imagine yourself doing anything different — and times when you wonder if you’ll be able to make it another six months. But one thing I love about a career in schools is this: Hope is always there. Every fall we welcome new faces to our classrooms. Every spring we watch our graduates spread their wings. There is always something new, something worthwhile, something to remind us that the work we do in our schools matters. Our kids and our families matter.

When I contrast the reasons I love working in Kansas public schools, with the stream of news out of Topeka, it’s hard for me to reconcile. It’s hard to make sense of how the Kansas Legislature had months — February, March, April — to write a Constitutional funding law, and didn’t. To know that they had a day in early June to follow the court’s orders, and didn’t. To see our elected officials walk away from their unfinished business, knowing full well that our state’s school system could be shut down if the work wasn’t done by June 30.

As a school superintendent, I get stopped by people at ballgames and the grocery store — a quirk of the job that I have always loved. But the lingering threat of a school shut-down has meant far more difficult questions. “Will there be school in August?” “Will I get paid in July?” “Will my family have to move to a state where schools are in session?” The hardest thing about these questions is that I just don’t have answers. We have no way of knowing what the legislature and governor will do — or when.

So in the meantime, we wait. We wait with hope that someone will step up and provide the leadership necessary for a solution. Undoubtedly, leadership is not a yoke for everyone. It carries a weight that some do not want. So in Kansas, here we are. And here we wait.

In Eudora and in districts across the state, we’re planning for what would happen in a shut-down. We plan for all kinds of emergency situations that could happen in our district, but we hope won’t. But no amount of planning can change the fact that Kansas is in uncharted, dangerous territory. A statewide closure of public schools is unprecedented. But every day that passes without honest work toward constitutional law for funding, brings us closer to this reality. This is the painful uncertainty that our Eudora families, employees and community members feel.

When I look around our state today, I can’t help but think of standing on the porch with my dad as a kid, with a storm rolling in. Right now, imagine you’re on your front porch. A massive tornado is on the ground, and it’s headed right for you. As you watch it get closer, all you know is that you might take a direct hit, or you might not. But watching and waiting is terrifying because the reality sets in that either way, there will be damage.tornado-541911_1280

The only difference between that tornado and the school finance events in Kansas is that we can act to control this storm; we can minimize the man-made destruction from Topeka. Are we prepared to speak up as Kansans and demand that leaders in Topeka change the course of this storm? The time is now.


 

What can you do?  Tell elected officials you expect the Kansas Legislature to pass a constitutional school funding bill as soon as possible.

  • Click here for your Kansas senator and representative
  • Click here for Governor Brownback’s contact information

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Christmas Fireplace

I am certain that each of us has memories of our childhood that today we remember as though it were yesterday. Christmas and New Years seem to provide us with some of the most vivid. I am reminded of the times as a child when I walked into my grandparents homes to find Christmas trees cut fresh from the pasture and draped in tinsel and lights. The smell of cedar and baked goods permeated every space in the house. Everything seemed so simple then (unless you were trying to use the nutcracker to open walnuts).

Looking back today, I think it’s really the “not so obvious” things that I miss the most. I remember the time spent with family, often with aunts, uncles and cousins that we didn’t see very often — and the disappointment when it was time for them to leave, knowing it could be another year before we would get together again. It was a time of “doing for others” simply because that’s what we do here in Kansas…scooping out a neighbor’s snowy driveway, helping to rake the last of the fallen leaves, or delivering homemade treats to a neighbor. It was the sweet aroma of one grandfather’s pipe and the joyful music from my other grandfather’s harmonica.  

This year, I would like to extend a sincere Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you. No matter your family’s traditions and celebrations, I hope you’ll remember what matters most — kindness to others and time with the people who mean the most to you. May these blessings rekindle your favorite memories and experiences, so special this time of year.

Have a safe and wonderful break — and we’ll see you in 2016!

 

New Year’s: Looking back, looking ahead

Looking back over 2014, it’s a little crazy to think about everything that’s changed for me and my family. It was almost a year ago that my wife and I came to Eudora on a cold, snowy January day for my interview. I had done my research, and I knew that Eudora was the place I wanted to be, both for my professional life, but also for my family life.

Fast-forward to July 1 — my first day in my office at West. For the next month, leading up to the start of school, I was on a fast track to listen and absorb as much as possible about this school system that was already operating so smoothly. I watched our staff plan for and pull off Cardinal Craze, and I was thoroughly impressed with their dedication to serving every single parent and family who walked through our doors over those two days.

The next few weeks brought with them new teacher induction, with my first chance to meet the teachers who’d been hired to join our team. What a group! And again, to watch how our administrative team and teacher leaders helped welcome and orient them to our district — I was impressed!

Convocation came, with my chance to welcome back all of our staff. I loved watching the food drive that the ENEA teachers’ association sponsors each year for the Eudora Food Pantry. I loved shaking hands with teachers, cooks, principals, bus drivers and others. I loved welcoming representatives of the Eudora Schools Foundation and the Eudora Chamber of Commerce.

Next, school started — and that’s what it’s all about. What happens in our schools is exactly why I came to Eudora. I’m humbled by the chance to help lead a system that encourages and empowers employees to serve students and families through caring, teaching and mentoring. And after one semester, I’m extremely proud of what I’ve  witnessed happening in our classrooms and schools. We are so fortunate in Eudora.

Heading into 2015, my first fill calendar year working and living in this community, I have three resolutions:

  1. Get out into our schools, as much as I possibly can. Whether it’s spending time in a kindergarten classroom, watching students immersed in a science project, or stopping by a band or choir practice now and then — this is what makes my day and reminds me of what matters.
  2. Collaborate with leaders who can help make good things happen in Eudora. There are outstanding partnerships already in place between our district and a number of government, non-profit and private agencies. And whether in resource sharing, grants or other support, these partnerships help Eudora Schools be stronger than we can be on our own.
  3. Fight for a bright future for Eudora Schools. Whether I’m supporting the work and innovation of our employees, working with our outstanding school board, or advocating in Topeka, the continued success of Eudora Schools is my priority.

As exciting as 2014 was, I can’t wait to see what great things await for Eudora Schools in 2015!