Kick Off to a new School Year

Sorry that my timing is off.  I left town Friday after the following meeting and then was sick the past few days.

Friday morning I had the privilege of joining the Verona Area School District staff for their annual kickoff to the new school year.  As the new board member, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  In the end it was an extremely rewarding experience that I was so happy to have experienced.  Following are my thoughts and reflections on the four hours I spent.

The morning started with breakfast.  I must admit while I haven’t been a high-schooler in almost 25 years, I felt every bit as nervous as I did back then, not knowing which table I should sit at and who would be sociable.  Being an introvert, I picked a table that was empty.  Eventually others sat down and things were just fine.  It really hit me though as to how real those feelings are and that our students experience these feelings regularly.  Hopefully they have someone in school that makes them feel welcome, makes them feel a part of the family.

The first presentation in the PAC was by Tee Leffin and a pair of doctors from Meriter/ Physicians Plus.  They were promoting fitness and healthy living.  The doctors did a great job of presenting a quiz on nutrition.  Nutrition will be an area of emphasis for staff who participate in the V-Fit program this year.  I think the key take away is that it is hard to help others if you aren’t looking out for one’s self.    Teachers can’t be effective teachers day in and day out if they are not taking care of themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.

Then there was a trio of addresses given by Mariann Kropp, president of VESPA; Jenny Braunginn, president of the VAEA; and Dennis Beres, president of the Verona Area School Board.  Of the three “speeches” I need to give credit to Marian Kropp.  I thought her speech was spot on.  She used an analogy of the Olympics and a relay team to demonstrate how important every person is in their role within the Verona Area School District and it is important to know that when an individual is not performing, it affects the entire team.  I found it to be very clear in message and on point for reminding people why we are all here.  We are here to support and educate students and it takes all of us working as a team to provide the best education possible.  Well done Mariann.

Michael Johnson, CEO from the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County was a last minute addition to the presenters.  Despite being on family vacation, he stepped in on short notice and brought his lovely daughter Mikayla (hope I didn’t butcher the spelling).   Mikayla stole the show in the cuteness department.   She eventually got her own microphone.  But I don’t want to take away from Michael’s message.  I think the most telling thing he shared was that growing up in Cabrini Green on the south side of Chicago, he was fortunate.  He had a mother who was a strong presence and kept him on a straight path.  He had his faith and his church to help him when questions arose.  He had a strong mentor and he was heavily involved in after school programs that kept him out of trouble.  So many kids from troubled homes, with little in their lives, need someone at school to take an interest, to show them support and caring.  Each person in that auditorium could be the one who makes an impact.  Every interaction can go a long way to making an impact.  The question we were all left with, what impact do you want to make?

Our Superintendent, Dean Gorrell was our last speaker of the day and I found his speech to be equally impactful as the others before him.  He again brought together the main theme of how we must all work together to make our school district the best possible school district.  He talked about how important it was to recognize one another for the amazing things we do for the district.  He shared a personal story about why we all matter.  We all matter and have an impact on lives every day.  While the past year has been difficult in our state, we still are a family, a team.  We will support one another and bring our best to the district every day.  We will pick each other up and help our colleagues because we care.  Ultimately we will continue to put students first and work extra hard to ensure they get the best education we can offer.

There was a great video put together of those who have achieved 25 years of service to the district and are still working for us.  We are very fortunate to have these folks.  We have lost a lot of great people over the last few years.  However, we still have a lot of outstanding professionals in our district.  They had great advice for our new hires and they showed why they have made significant contributions to our district over the past twenty five years.

In summary, I think back to the theme that emerged throughout the morning and it reminds me of a speech from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Think of it this way.  A great teacher is never a great teacher unless they turn out great students.  Great students are never going to be great students without great teachers.  Our district will never be a great district until we address our achievement gap, and find more ways to work harmoniously to the betterment of all of our students.  After the meetings on Friday, I feel we are off to a good start.


About johnmmcculley

Father of three, currently serving in my first term on the Verona Area School Board. Hoping to help foster more open discussions about the future of education in my community.
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