Monday, July 29, 2013

Make The Right Call

January 28, 1986 was like any other day in the life of a college freshman. I had attended class that morning and had returned to my dorm room when I heard that the Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up just after it lifted off in Cape Canaveral. It was one of those moments that is forever etched in my memory - where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, etc. all quickly come to mind when I remember that fateful morning.

In the days and months that followed the Challenger explosion, it became increasingly clear that the engineers from Thiokol who had designed the solid rocket boosters had strongly recommended that NASA delay the launch because they feared the unusually cold temperature could cause the synthetic rubber O-rings to fail. If the engineers who designed the rockets were fearful of failure because of the weather conditions, why did NASA launch the Challenger anyway? While there were a great many factors, it appears that external pressure, (both within Thiokol and NASA itself) was the primary driver of the decision to launch that morning.

Ask yourself, what have we learned from the Challenger disaster that we can apply to education today? Do we rush into ill-fated decisions because of external pressure? Does the need to cut cost and generate profit supersede the need to make good, educated decisions? Are experts driving the decisions or are others doing so?

As you may recall, one of the astronauts on that particular Challenger mission was Christa McAuliffe who was to become the first teacher in space. Now, almost 30 years after she lost her life on that mission, perhaps Christa McAuliffe still has some lessons to teach.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Central Casting

A few years ago we received a phone call from my nephew who was vacationing with my brother and sister-in-law in Florida. When I asked him about his visit to Disney World he said, "Uncle Curt, I was just lost in the magic." While I laughed at the time, I must admit that when it comes to Disney, I too find myself lost in magic.

Through the years my wife and I have taken our children to Disney numerous times and I have read about Disney and their powerful culture. Every decision and every detail is purposeful and connected to their mission which says in part, "to be one of the world's leading providers of entertainment and information." Perhaps the area that I have been most fascinated with is their Central Casting Department. You see, Disney does not hire employees, rather they cast for a role. During the casting process, perspective cast members watch a video which explains very clearly Disney's high standards. From what I understand, after watching the video, some decide that being a Disney cast member just isn't for them.

Since school ended in June, Saline Area Schools has been conducting our own version of central casting. We have talked about our high standards and expectations to applicants from New York to Washington and spent countless hours identifying and casting individuals to fill the various roles within our district. The process has been both exhausting and exciting at the same time, yet I am convinced that  if we continue to cast properly we too can continue to be a world leader in education.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Special Construction Crew

The end of the school year marked a time of transition, not only for the graduating seniors of Saline High School but also for a very special group of 17 retirees. 

Twelve teachers, two bus drivers, two paraeducators and the Director of Facilities all retired from Saline Area Schools this past year. That group of 17 individuals had served the students of Saline for a combined total 419 years, (an average of over 24 years). Among the group were eight teachers who had taught for 30 or more years, (including one who had taught for 47) and a bus driver who had driven for 35 years! 

At a retirement reception hosted by the Board of Education, the retirees were given a poem that read:

The Builder

I once saw a group of men tearing a building down,
A group of men in my hometown. 
With a heave and a ho and a mighty yell, 
They swung the beam and the side wall fell. 
I asked the foreman, "Are these men skilled? 
The kind I would hire if I wanted to build?" 
He laughed and said, "Why no indeed. 
Common labor is all I need. 
For I can tear down in a day or two
What it took the builder ten years to do." 
So I thought to myself as I walked away, 
Which of these roles am I going to play? 
Am I going to tear down as I make my way merrily around? 
Or am I going to build with care with the hope that the people will be glad I was there? 

- Author Unknown

There is no question that each of our retirees "built with care" and we are certainly grateful for each of their contributions over the years!