Friday, October 17, 2003
Talk is cheap, but very valuable
We are lucky to have two school administrations that take time to listen to the community. About once a month, Superintendent of the Carlisle Public Schools Davida Fox-Melanson offers Dialogs with Davida, and Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) Principal Art Dulong holds Coffee with the Principal.
Dialogs with Davida
Starting at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning, Fox-Melanson meets for an hour in the Spalding Conference Room with anyone interested in dropping in for a cup of coffee and an informal conversation about school issues. The one ground-rule is that the group avoid naming problems of specific children and teachers. September's topics included the new CORI checks for parent volunteers, improving children's social skills, improvements to the school's web site, and the proposed wastewater treatment plant. Fox-Melanson is happy to field questions from parents new to the school system, and often one can learn a lot from the experiences and viewpoints shared by the other parents. I appreciate that Fox-Melanson has put herself on a first-name basis with parents, and the focus is on working together to help the children. She listens to what everyone says.
Sometimes the large conference table is crowded, but more often, lately, only a small group attends. Why do only a few people take advantage of this opportunity? Is it because things at the school are running fairly smoothly, and there are no big controversies? Do all the parents new to the school system know about this means of access to the school's top administrator?
Fox-Melanson is scheduled to retire at the end of this school year. If we don't show that we value this open forum, will her successor continue it?
Coffees with the Principal
When interviewed by phone, Art Dulong said he likes the chance to talk to "a small audience," which is provided by the Coffees, and noted that the gatherings give him a chance to hear the concerns in the parent community. Usually held on the first Monday of the month, the meetings run from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. in room A-7 of the high school. Attendance varies, but averages about two dozen. Dulong said this is the first school where he's encountered parent-administration coffees, and noted that these were started at CCHS by his predecessor, Elaine DiCicco. As in Carlisle, it is understood that individual teachers and students won't be named during the discussions. Dulong urged parents who cannot attend the morning coffees to come to CCHS Parent Association meetings, where he is also available to answer questions.
I recommend that parents take advantage of these great opportunities to talk with our schools' administrators. Dialogs with Davida will be held this morning, and on November 21. The next Coffee with the CCHS Principal will be held November 3. Two-way communication is very important, as the parents and the schools are both working to help meet the needs of the students.
We live in a quiet town, where not a great deal happens. For example, the major event in my life last week was a beseeching call from the mother of a high school student charged with collecting 60 samples of tree leaves in and around the town. A rumor that my yard harbored a gingko tree had led her to me, and in the best spirit of neighborliness I bestowed on mother and daughter a gingko leaf and the wish that they go in peace.
Their quest aroused in me long-buried memories of a fall long ago when I was also charged with acquiring a large catalog of nature lore, namely, qualifying for the Bird Study Merit Badge in the Boy Scouts. Then, as now, 21 merit badges were necessary to become an Eagle Scout. About a dozen of them were prescribed and the rest were elective. Most of the prescribed ones were practical and useful subjects like swimming, lifesaving, and cooking, things that even a shy and self-centered boy could see the value of.
But lurking within the group was this anomalous requirement to become proficient in identification of birds. I can't remember all the details because the first item was so overwhelming, namely, to see and identify in the field 40 species of birds. To a young man still in the throes of puberty, seeing, let alone identifying, 40 different birds seemed an almost insurmountable task. Our house had pigeons, and I could identify robins and blue jays, but after that I was pretty much a spent force.
My mother took pity on me and introduced me to a local birder who agreed to take me on one of his morning walks. He announced that on a recent morning he had seen 80 species in a two-hour period. The observation should have heartened me, but it had the opposite effect of making the task even more daunting, since it implied that he carried in his head descriptions of at least 80 birds. It seemed to me that the bird world was full of distinctions with only minor differences · typified by birds distinguished solely by the size of some spot under their throats that I could never see anyway. My belief is that when birds know they are being watched they purposely turn away so that you can't see their differentiating spots.
Anyway, I accompanied this fellow on a walk but felt that, since I hadn't been the person identifying the birds that we saw, none of them could be counted toward the merit badge requirement. I had to do this on my own. Gradually, I built up my list, though I maintained a rather low threshold of confidence in what I had actually seen. One of the entries was "great blue heron," a bird whose description had captured my fancy and that I particularly wanted to see. Eventually I did, though it was so far off that I still wonder in my heart if it was not a DC-3.
Since those days, wiser heads have changed the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, and Bird Study is no longer required. It's a good thing, for it was the last merit badge I ever got. What had presumably been conceived as opening a new vista for appreciation of nature awakened in me an undying hatred of birds that years of therapy have been unable to cure. I wonder if my neighbor will wind up hating trees.
© 2003 The