Williamsburg Isn’t Flat

A long hill on South English Street on the way back to the finish line.

Around midday on Wednesday, November 20, I left Richmond.  I was driving east to Williamsburg where I would be  attending the Virginia School Boards Association(VSBA) annual convention.

In October of 2018, I had been selected to fill out a school board term for the Henrico County School Board. This 14 month appointment has zipped by me. Hard to believe that I’m attending my second VSBA convention.

This is a good event for Virginia’s school boards, their superintendents, and an assortment of local school board leaders. The keynote speakers and seminars offered are exceptional. Chances are those in attendance will leave with some practical ideas and solutions.

Even though I had 31 years of experience in working with schools in Virginia, I felt a bit overwhelmed at last year’s convention as a rookie board member. This year, I had a better sense of what to expect, plus I would be representing our board as a delegate at the official business meeting of the VSBA.

The opening session on Wednesday afternoon featured Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent, Ithaca City School District in New York. Dr. Brown focused his remarks on equity, but the highlight for me was the student panel who he interacted with. Five high school students from around Virginia shared their observations related toward equity and other important topics like—safety.

Now a confession here, I missed the presentation of Dr. Tim Hodges on Thursday morning. But, I had an excused absence, I ran in the 16th Annual 5K Walk/Run. 

By the time I got cleaned up and grabbed some breakfast, I was back in time for the two seminars I had charted out to attend. I heard Dr. Billy Haun, Executive Director, of the Virginia High School League, attempt to look into the future of high school athletics during the next five years. I learned that no matter the size and location of our school systems, we are all facing similar athletic challenges.

Next, I attended Transforming A High Poverty School Division:  Our Students Don’t Have Time To Wait. Dr. Zeb Talley, Superintendent for Martinsville City Schools, and key leaders from his staff told their story about moving their schools from being non-accredited to accredited. This seminar was outstanding because the presenters captured the challenges they faced while charting their practical approach for turning a dire situation around.

The business meeting of the VSBA was billed as advertised. Unfortunately, the technology gremlins foiled the voting system, so we had to vote the old fashioned way—we held up hand fans. There was interesting discussion on some of the legislative proposals too.

Friday morning came quick with a nice breakfast from the Virginia Lottery, the VSBA’s new president took over the leadership for this session, and then the keynote, Dr. Steve Constantino, was center stage. Dr. Constantino is the real deal. An experienced educator, and a superb storyteller, Dr. Constantino made us laugh, think, and tear up a bit.

For years, I have been one of those crazy people who enjoys going for an early morning run. So running the 5K on Thursday morning was something I was looking forward to. 

Last year, when I ran this 5K, I was fooled by the course. I thought Williamsburg’s terrain out here on the edge of the coastal plain would be flat. But this course, an out and back one on South English Street had some hills, long hills.

And that is ok, because life isn’t perfectly flat, and neither is the work done on a daily basis by public educators. The work of educators is like those hills— up and down. We have our up moments when everything comes together and a student finds success. And then we have those down moments too, when no matter what we try success is absent.

At this very moment in time, I think public educators are under more scrutiny and pressure than maybe in the history of our profession. We face many challenges and obstacles. We are asked to do more and more for societal issues that our students bring with them. Quite simply, school work is tough work, and there are no easy places to work anymore.

In all of this, I worry about our morale in these challenging times. One difficult situation can consume a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and a school board. Honestly, a difficult set of circumstances can make an educator question—why am I in this profession?

 That is why it is important for everyone in a school building and a school system to look out for their mental and physical health. I can’t tell you how many times my head was cleared of school clutter by taking an early morning run.

On Thursday morning as I turtled down South English Street, the crisp fall air refreshed me, the quietness of the landscape relaxed me, and the hues of the season colored my mind in wonder.

I’m sure everyone who attended the convention left with takeaways, but as you plot out your return to your school systems be sure to carve out time for yourself. Failure to neglect yourself isn’t acceptable.

As I sat at the breakfast table on Friday morning, pings of conversation caught my attention.

In one hug between two former colleagues, I heard these words about their collaborative work—“we overcame a lot.”

That embrace and the comment was a takeaway moment for me. 

Our challenges in public education hinge on our capacity to build relationships. 

Go ahead, name the issue that robs your sleep, that makes you consume mass quantities of an antacid, and makes your want to hide in your office. 

It doesn’t matter what you named, if you can build a relationship, you just created hope. 

Hope is always worth pursuing because hope positions you to be able to overcome what you face.

Yes, the 5K course on South English Street wasn’t flat. It had hills.

Why was I able to overcome those hills? It was pretty simple—my internal relationship with myself willed me.

Just imagine what you will be able to overcome when you create relationships beyond yourself.

Don’t wait. 

Go build relationships. 

Remember, a student is counting on you.

2 thoughts on “Williamsburg Isn’t Flat”

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