Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, September 18, 2015

Good afternoon, Straight Talkers.  As I write this, it is 6:20 p.m. on Friday.  This will be my last official act of Week 5 of this school year. 

This has been an interesting week.  Thanks to all who read last week’s installment about Spiderman.  I will check on little Spiderman soon and let you know how he and his classmates are getting along.  It is fun and easy to check on little Spiderman.    I have had some great dialogue with many of you about the issues raised last week.  It gives me a great deal of hope to know that we are working together to solve problems.  When I took this position I said that I would do my best, but that I could certainly not accomplish much unless we come together as a team. I know we have a number of challenges, but I am extremely encouraged about the progress we are making.  Let me explain.

Commissioner Johnny Key and I arranged to tour some of our schools this week.   We left from the district office in my car.  I did not have an itinerary, and I had not called ahead to any schools to ask that personnel be on their best behavior.  I asked Commissioner Key where he wanted to go.  He said it didn’t matter. 

Our first stop was an elementary school.  We walked in and were greeted immediately in a friendly way by a smiling security person.  The Commissioner signed in.  We met a class of pre- kindergarten students in the hallway who were lined up for an activity.  All of them were smiling except one little girl, who was missing her mother.  The little girl next to her was comforting her.  The teacher was fully engaged and pleasant.  She was so proud of her kids.  The principal was out in the building attending to some business, but she came up and we took a short tour.   We met an enthusiastic teacher that was a friend of the Commissioner’s.  The classes we observed were busy.  The students had their heads down, books open, and pencils in hand.   The teachers were amazing.  I constantly marvel at the ability of our teachers to be in control, without seeming to be controlling, or overbearing.  We went in the science lab, and saw all sorts of animals.  Earlier that day a science class watched as a snake shed its skin.  What a great way to learn about reptiles.  It was fascinating to me, and I know it must be fascinating to the students.  Again, the teacher was professional, energized and on fire to educate kids.   He told us how he is collaborating with other teachers so that the things that are studied in the science enrichment are coordinated with the subjects that the students are studying in their regular classes.  

The next stop was a middle school.  We were again greeted immediately by a pleasant security person.  The principal appeared not from his office, but from a hallway where he had been doing some classroom observation.   We went in a number of classrooms.  The students were on task, listening attentively, and learning.  The teachers never missed a word, and the students did not notice our presence.  The principal introduced us to his custodial staff.  He said, “I want you to meet the best custodial staff in the Little Rock School District.”  He meant it when he said it, and they beamed.  It was clear that they have a solid team that works together.  The place was beautiful.  The most beautiful things, again, were the classrooms full of students and teachers working very hard.

We repeated this experience twice more at random stops.  Again, there was no advance notice or special preparation.  We simply saw the consistent, systematic and rather intense classroom instruction that makes a difference.

The last stop was a high school, and I will name this one-McClellan.  I had been there several times during the week, and I was there last Friday night for the Bryant football game.  We toured the building.  I was so pleased when we went into the classrooms.  The students at McClellan are polite and fun.  The teachers we observed were really doing well.  It was a pleasure to be there. 

I believe the Commissioner was as proud as I was to see the level of commitment, collaboration, cooperation and excellence that we observed.  We have some challenges, but we have some great people.  I am so gratified to be on the team.

I spoke to a couple of civic clubs this week.  They asked a number of very good questions.  I also spoke to the staff of the Central High newspaper.  They asked me about Spiderman, and what I am going to do to be sure that our students remain excited about learning.  Wow.  Hard question. 

I stammered around and finally said that successful students are supported at school by wonderful teachers and administrators, and supported outside of school by many others.   Later on, I reflected more on the question.  In the early grades we almost universally show our students more emotion.  That seems to diminish as the students get older.  As students get older, the teachers don’t care any less.  In fact, as the transitions from school to higher education or work become immediate, many adults care even more intensely.  Our adult experiences teach us that the next steps are critical.  We have seen in our community lately that some students don’t transition well. 

I know the way we interact and show our feelings certainly changes as our students progress, but we still need to let our students know that we care deeply about their futures.  Parents, relatives, friends or  neighbors—somebody-- has to show our students that we care, and that we expect a lot.  If love and care are the secret sauces, then let’s pour it all over our students.  Let’s expect the greater community to do likewise.

When the commissioner and I were touring around, I saw a lot of the secret sauce being applied to a lot of wonderful students. 

As I go from school to school, I see that we do care deeply.  Our younger students see this more clearly, I think, than some of our older ones.  We have too many older students who aren’t meaningfully engaged by an adult during the school day.  These are the students who get out of orbit.  It is hard to check up on big Spiderman.  Really hard, and difficult, and awkward.  And essential.

It is 7:00 p.m. and I am missing the kickoff of the football game between Parkview and Catholic.   I have to run….

Thanks to all who gave it all this week for our kids.


P.S.  I had a great time at the game.  We won.  Come on out to a game this week and support our players, coaches, bands, cheer squads, high steppers, flag teams, and everyone else who makes Friday night special.


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