This post will be edited sometime later this morning to clean it up a bit.
I’m listening to NRP radio as I type this. I’ve been out of bed for an hour and the long post I imagined typing up may be truncated as I head into another busy day.
I was trying to remember the meteoric steps that Teddy Roosevelt took on the way to the Vice Presidency when I woke up. law school, the legislature, Civil Service, Police Commissioner of New York City, Asst. Secretary of the Navy, Rough Rider, Governor……at least that’s what I recall from reading the first third of Doris K Goodwin’s marvelous book Bully Pulpit. Then I tried to remember the path George Herbert Walker Bush took on the way to the White House. He was described at the time as having the resume fit for a President.
But what woke me was the health of the Duluth Schools. At seven this morning I’ll work on that by meeting with fellow new Board member Annie Harala for breakfast. We’ve been threatening to have coffee since the MSBA conference in January. This week we had already set and broke two meeting times. Those of you looking for my traditional spilling of the beans are going to be disappointed again. I’m still pursuing my Grandmother’s BYC policy so as not to muck up the opportunities I’m beginning to see for us to thread my way through a minefield.
Over the summer I formed an early impression of Annie. She’s my kid’s age and she went to Chester Park with them. That difference in age put me at risk of regarding her in a patronizing attitude. There was no doubt she was eager and enthusiastic. She was also so green she didn’t want to risk making anyone mad at her by hinting at any agenda she might be taking with her to the school board. That combination of characteristics and her freedom from having any annoying past political history trailing behind her gave her the highest vote totals on election day.
The jury, my jury, was still out on Annie as she took office. There is no question that on a reduced school board of seven people three of them new (if you include me) she would play a significant role. As such there is little doubt that she will be courted by all the rest of us with agendas.
The first thing I can assure my readers is that Annie seems intent on figuring out for herself what needs to be done. At our few school board meetings so far she has been effectively businesslike asking good questions and losing herself in intelligent inquiries.
This was true of the recent Education standing committee which she was named chair of. That meeting lasted over three hours and even though it appeared she had been coached to hurry the meeting up she didn’t let other’s impatience get in the way of our questions. Afterwards the Superintendent commented that he will probably have to make our agendas shorter so that committee members. I hope he doesn’t. Three hour meetings were not unusual when I first served on the Board. Its just that in recent years no one has asked questions. BTW, I consider that an indictment of the old Board.
Annie has learned a couple things about me as well. She commented favorably about my interest in the Ojibwe immersion classes the other day and she was impressed to hear that I would be volunteering at Lifehouse this afternoon. She herself spent a year or more supervising recent college graduates who were teacher interns or something like that. As such she is one of the cheerleaders for new blood and new methods in the classrooms.
I’ve met with Art Johnston for many hours and had many other long conversations with him as well. I haven’t had the same chance to cultivate other Board members in the same way. However, in previous posts I’ve outlined my long history with most of the other Board members. Annie has been the biggest unknown although I have known her mother, a Duluth teacher, for twenty years.
I won’t have much more than an hour with Annie this morning. I’ve got twenty hours of things to discuss with her so the best I’ll be able to do is lay out a thin veneer. I’m not in any rush. What I want to discuss with Annie needs a thorough vetting with all of the other Board members. I really don’t like the word I used earlier, “cultivate.” That suggests a level of grooming that I don’t intend. What I have to do is plead that Annie keep the open and curious mind that she has shown so far. That will mean that she must treat me with the same distance and skepticism I would wish her to maintain with all other members of the School Board. I really think this school board has some unique skill sets and history that could help weather some really bumpy weather.
The Superintendent is a key and I have been watching him with interest too. I’ll be frank here. The superintendent has a great reverance for Keith Dixon. I loath the Dixon legacy. That is a considerable gap to bridge. But I know that the blind men groping an elephant can’t help but see the beast (or feel rather) in unique and varied ways. Keith Dixon is only a historical artifact for me at this point. Bill Gronseth is real presence.
I’ve attended about seven of the recent Think Kids meetings he organized. I got used to his canned message and jokes much like a reporter following a Presidential candidate across the country. Those poor reporters have to endure hearing the same canned speech over and over again with the prepared jokes and pauses for applause.
So last night at a small intimate gathering at Lakewood School The superintendent was standing by his map of the District. Just as he was about to trot out one of his lame jokes Annie beat him to the punch. “It sort of looks like Italy.”
“Annie,” I chided her, “That was the Superintendent’s joke!”
A few moments later I leaned over to Rosie Loeffler Kemp and whispered, “That was a pretty bold thing for Annie to do?”
“I wouldn’t have done it”, Rosie whispered back.
I’f I was speaking this into my phone now the hahaha feature would have kicked in. I have some delightful people to work with.
A short time later I was looking at one of the hand outs and trying to recall what the initials CC stood for where a lot of our students were said to be going to. I leaned over to Rosie and asked her for clarification. “Community College,” Rosie told me quite seriously and improbably. I was stumped. “Or Catholic Church,” she said. Then she looked up at me slyly and finally explained “child care.”
It was windy and cold outside and no one seemed any too eager to go out into the cold. After I had tarried a while the Superintendent headed out with a plastic container of his handouts. I mentioned that my wife was off to the cities that night at seminary and he mentioned that he was a lay Methodist minister. I told him I was an agnostic who had been a twenty-year member of our Presbyterian choir. He explained that he now attended a Lutheran Church. I asked it that was the influence of his wife. He avered that this was the case.
If I can just bat away my deepest suspicions there may be a time when I’ll walk out on a dark night with my fellow Board members and find myself saying, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” That’s certainly a more hopeful line than “Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy ride.” I wouldn’t be surprise to find that both of these Hollywood lines apply to the next four years.
All seven of us went to the School Board conference last month. That is the most hopeful indication that we are of like mind no matter how unalike we are.