Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, June 1, 2015

You can learn a lot from visiting schools, and talking to parents and students. 

I spoke at the 5th grade graduation at Jefferson on Friday.  I took my law school diploma, which has remained in the red mailing tube in which I received it since 1979.  I asked the kids if they wanted me to give my prepared speech, or talk about what was in the mailing tube.  They picked the tube.  I told the students that my first grade teacher at Jefferson, Mrs. Meeks, taught me to read in 1960.  Nineteen years later I got the diploma, but I would never have received it if I hadn’t learned to read.  In a way, she really sent it to me.  I went to her old room that morning.  I remember the way the chalk clicked when she wrote on the board. 

I went to McClellan high school several times last week.  I made arrangements with the incoming student council president to go to their planning retreat next Saturday.  We are going to get acquainted.  They will know I care about them.  I want them to set the tone in the school.  We need a good year there.  I will meet with the staff and principal before school starts.

 I had lunch at Fair with about 20 student leaders.  The school is generally working for these students. We sat in a circle and laughed, and shared some things about their futures.  The students were delightful.  They are smart, witty, and amazing.  They all have plans, and they all are working to make their plans come together.  The meeting got serious when I asked about their school, their teachers, and their classmates.  One wonderful young woman asked me what I could do to help her classmates who don’t have any support at home.  She described students whose homes are not filled with positive things.  Her eyes welled up with tears when she talked about classmates who must rush home to babysit younger siblings.  How can these students succeed if they must overcome all of the difficult things that they encounter?  I did not know what to say. 

We have some work to do, Little Rock.  Don’t expect our schools to fix everything.  Do expect our schools to pull together, to focus and to perform.  We are making progress every day on our organization, our mission, our focus and our execution.   The first step in helping others is understanding their circumstances.   I am learning every day. 

People start to help their brothers and sisters by showing them that they care.  It starts by being there, even if it is awkward at first, or if you don’t know what to do.  We must teach all students to read.  You are going to need to show them you care. 

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