I have to tell a little about my beginning as a school superintendent. I remember getting the call from the board president for Norway-Vulcan Schools on Monday, July 10, 1989. Even though it was about 400 miles away, I told him I could start on Thursday, July 13. I was so excited. After my call to my dad, the first call I made was to Gary Jackson. Gary is here today. Gary was superintendent at New Boston, Huron. So, I said, now what do I do? He said, “Sign up for the MASA summer conference at the end of July. You’ll get to know a few people, make some connections, and learn some good stuff”.
So, I did. Some people I met at that first conference were Dave Kahn, Ray Telman, Blanche Fraser, Mike Emlaw, Don Elliott, as well as Gary Jackson and many others. I don’t know if Ray and Dave would remember, but I called them about five or six times in that first month as a superintendent. My new district had just cut transportation in June. The election for additional millage had failed. My first board meeting in August had about 300 hundred people and had to be held in the gym. Here I was, trying to figure out what the funding formula was, how to run a district, how to set up a millage election, how to earmark mills, and many other things.
I went to the new superintendent’s conference in the fall and I sat next to Tom Shorkey from East China, and Mike Flanagan from Farmington. It is a small world and I never dreamed that I would one day be superintendent at East China following Tom.
So, MASA was my salvation during those first few months. We ended up reinstating transportation conditioned on passing two mills additional. We passed the millage in September. Everyone at MASA was helpful to me. Every time I needed a little info, I called. They made me look very smart when I was so inexperienced.
To me, that’s what MASA is all about. Making us all look a little smarter. Helping us be successful. Helping us help our administrators, help our staff, and ultimately help our students. I have been involved with MASA now for 17 years as a school superintendent. My involvement with MASA has helped me be more knowledgeable and helped my district and helped my students. MASA has helped me become a better leader for my district.
Schools are facing many challenges these days. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming. The NCLB requirements are continuing to ratchet up. State requirements for graduation are here. The school safety legislation has caused some issues to deal with. Funding for schools seems to be a never-ending issue.
But I view these challenges as opportunities. Opportunities for improvement, opportunities for growth. Opportunities to shape our districts the way they should be to help students be more successful. We cannot be complacent, sitting back, waiting for others to solve our problems. We also cannot say this is always the way we’ve done it. As they say, if you keep doing things the same way, you’ll keep getting the same result. We have to be the ones to look at new ways, new ideas and be willing to make the changes necessary to get the performance results. The bar is being raised for our students and we’d better be ready to help our staff and communities understand that.
To me life is about choices. You can choose to be overwhelmed or you can choose to step up. You can be a problem maker or a problem solver. The choice is yours.
The world today has this “what have you done for me lately attitude.” No matter what you have done, you must continue to make more accomplishments and continue being successful or your past successes become nothing. It reminds me of this story:
A lady in New York had a bagel stand and for a dollar you could get a warm bagel. A rather polished gentleman passed by her way every day and put in a dollar, but didn’t take a bagel. He did this every day for weeks and one day the lady stopped him and said, “Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?” He replied, “I know you’re probably wondering why I put a dollar in the basket every day and don’t take a bagel. I just feel it’s one small thing I can do to make the world a better place. I want to support you and your effort to better yourself.” She said, “No, no, I just wondered if you knew that I raised my price to $1.50?”
So, what have you done lately? Whatever it is, it probably is not enough. We shouldn’t dwell on our past successes or failures. We need to move forward understanding that we are determined by our present actions and not our past actions.
Life is all about attitude. Charles Swindoll said the following. “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude of life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, school, or home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.”
“We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.”
So, how are our attitudes? How do we react to life’s roadblocks? How do we handle the changes being forced upon us from the legislature? How do we react to community pressure?
I truly believe that we can improve our schools, we can increase our students’ performance, we can meet the requirements, we can solve the problems, and we can be good stewards of the public trust for the funds that we spend for the education of our children. We can by having a positive attitude and working together with staff, parents, and our communities.
We need to continue to be strong leaders. We need to work together with our communities, the legislature, our staff, our boards, our parents, and most importantly our students. It’s like a symphony. Each of us plays an important role or part in this symphony. We can meet the challenges that are ahead by working together, making good choices, and keeping a positive attitude.
MASA is a part of the symphony. MASA will continue to help superintendent’s become better leaders and will continue to help superintendent’s help their districts improve student performance. MASA will continue to meet the challenges as Michigan continues to lead the nation with the best schools. As we look toward this next year, I look forward to working with executive director, William Mayes, the executive board and council and the great Michigan superintendents and front-line assistants to make our organization one that helps superintendents become great leaders and one that continues to look at challenges as opportunities to make the future better. Thank you.