Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, July 3, 2015

I got an email this morning from a speech pathologist who works in one of our elementary schools.  She told me about working with a third grader who has a “mild articulation disorder.”  As she worked with the student, she “was always amazed by his interests and vast knowledge of various topics.”  She said he was able to comprehend and remember all sorts of things, but he was not a good reader.  He received reading interventions at school, but he did not make much progress.  At one point the little boy told her, “You know, I would be really smart if I could read.”  That statement broke her heart, and it makes my heart jump up in my throat.  This little boy IS really smart, and he needs help.  She is determined to see that he gets it.  She is going to follow through for this child, and her efforts may make all the difference.   I see teachers going the extra mile almost every day, and it makes me proud of so many of the people with whom I now work.  It makes me want to do all I can to be sure we have the time, tools and resources to help every child.

Now for the tough part of the Straight Talk.  I wasted a lot of time this week on things that do not improve teaching and learning in the classroom.  LRSD spends a great deal of money on substitute teachers and substitute administrators.  We spend millions of dollars hiring replacements for teachers and administrators.  Some are out intermittently, and others are out for extended periods of time.

It appears that many LRSD employees who are nearing retirement seem to become ill, and then take long periods of sick leave as they leave the district.  Teachers, administrators and support personnel do this, and our students pay the price.  The district is forced to find replacement personnel, and the district basically pays double for the services it needs in these cases.  Money is wasted rather than being spent hiring reading specialists and others who can help our kids.

This “sick of work” behavior is clearly part of the culture of the organization.  Some employees take most all of their annual sick leave, which is at least ten days a year, plus two unspecified days off, regardless of their medical conditions.   Far too many teachers, administrators, and support staff view sick days as “their days,” to be taken at random as paid days off.  This troubles me, because the cost in dollars is great.  The cost in lost opportunity for learning is even greater.  My biggest fear is that this type of behavior indicates a lack of commitment which would manifest itself every day, including the days when present on the job.  Our kids deserve our best, and our best is better than that. Please understand I get it.  It is tough in the trenches.  I am going to substitute teach this coming year if I can find the time, and I want other administrators to follow suit.  My job is to make the work environment better, so that employees realize their value.  I want all employees to feel appreciated, so that they will also fully appreciate the importance of their work.  Maybe then fewer would feel the need to take time off.    Maybe we ought to reward retirees by paying them for some of their sick days if they don’t use them. 

There are many, many people who respect the system, and who give one hundred percent even when they don’t feel their best.  I can recall one principal who retired this year with almost 200 accumulated sick days.  There are numerous examples of such dedication.  Lives are changed by that type of commitment. The level of effort and caring shown by the speech pathologist who contacted me this morning should be our cultural standard, and I hope that soon it will be.  For many in LRSD it already is the standard, and I thank you.  I want to give an award each year to the retiree who leaves with the most accumulated sick leave- The “Iron Educator” Award.

The story from the speech pathologist of the bright little boy who was a struggling reader reminded me of a similar story that I remember.  I remember a little boy who was struggling as a reader, and struggling as a writer.  His mother was not college-educated, but she was certain that the boy was capable of much more than he was doing in school.  The mother even called her high school English teacher, and asked her if she could help.  The teacher, whose name was “Miss Roney,” came and worked with the boy, and the boy’s mother took correspondence courses in children’s literature so she could work with him.  His regular teacher in school worked with him every day, sometimes after school on her own time.  The teacher never missed school.   The boy didn’t either, and over time, things began to click.  He became a better reader.  He still treasures a book that Miss Roney gave him, and he wrote his name in it.  The name is not easy to read, but you can probably make it out.



Let’s help these kids.  I know it makes a difference.  



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