I’d like to take the promise of this holiday season to thank all who work with children, with adolescents and young adults to help them become the men and women who will someday lead our community and our country.
There are few jobs with greater purpose than those fulfilled by the teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, social workers, therapists and others who devote their lives, their passions and their talents to helping children succeed.
That includes the staff of this publication, School News Network. We’re committed to bringing their stories, and the stories of the students with whom they work, to our community and the world.
That also includes the school board members who share their time, their patience and their wisdom with those of us in the field. For the most part, theirs is a trying and mostly thankless job. We ask much of them, and few people stop a board member in Meijer and thank them for the time they’ve given to their children and to their community.
I’d be remiss if I failed to take this opportunity to thank Sandy Theisen and Fred Thorne, board members who worked incredibly hard for their schools and students, who recently passed after struggling through illness.
Mrs. Theisen was a force to be reckoned with. A Kentwood School Board member, she sought to serve all schools and students of the region through the Kent Intermediate Association of School Boards. She brought her passions to that position and to her lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, as she relished the opportunity to participate in the National School Boards Association Advocacy Conference and meet with our delegation to share the needs of her districts’ students.
Mr. Thorne gave all but 30 of his 77 years to student advocacy. He was a member of the Sparta School Board for 25 years and was credited for starting the district’s student foundation as well as providing leadership for building the district’s high school. He served another 22 years on the Kent ISD board, always in support of creating new opportunities for students. Service was in his blood, as he came to the schools following an honored tour of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps.
These board members, and the thousands of teachers, school administrators and support staff stand out in today’s world, a culture defined by the narcissism of reality TV and an electorate that asks “what’s in it for me, instead of what’s in the common good?.”
There are many critics of education who would change our system of local governance. They maintain locally elected board members do not have the capacity or the intellect to adequately lead, or hold accountable, those who lead our schools.
That’s the easy way out. If there are those who believe our schools need better leadership, they should roll up their sleeves, recruit and help elect others who they believe may do better.
Business and Education Work Together
Our schools work best when they seek to understand, and to meet, the expectations of their communities. I can think of no better example than the work underway now across the region to identify and provide students with the employability, or success skills, that will best prepare them for college and careers.
Recently, nearly 100 educators from Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa ISDs came together with business representatives from the Right Place, Discover Manufacturing and Talent 2025 to define these skills and discuss how to document them in student transcripts.
The work of these educators and business leaders embodies all that is envisioned by the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development and the Michigan Department of Education in their Career Pathways Alliance. It is a dialogue between educators and business to determine the career preparation necessary to ensure a better outcome for students and a steady supply of talent to fuel the economy.
This type of leadership happens because local leaders are committed to listening, learning, and working together to fulfill the needs of their community. It happens when people like Mrs. Theisen and Mr. Thorne are driven to seek out leadership roles to make things better in their schools and their community.
18th century French philosopher and counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre famously observed “every nation gets the government it deserves.”
For years, I believed the wisdom of this quote was its celebration, or indictment, of a nation’s political system. After more than two decades in education, I’m inclined to believe it starts earlier, with a nation’s support and education of its children. If we fail our children, we fail ourselves, and we fail our future.
Far too many of the passionate men and women working on behalf of children in our culture do so without the respect they deserve. They, like first responders, are giving their talents for the benefit of others.They’re certainly not doing it to line their pocketbooks.
Their contributions will pay off in future leadership among the students in our schools today. It’s an invaluable gift described best by historian Henry Brooks Adams: “Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.”
Please join me in saying “Thank You!” to those those who contribute their time to the benefit of their students, their schools and their communities.