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Sometimes it is all about the kids – When love is not enough


Ray Pinney

I was sitting in an office with a few staff members from my son’s school when I realized that the weeks of stress and strain involving my son were getting to me. Tears started to well in my eyes. Emotions that I can’t even explain prevented me from being strong and the tears just began to flow. I don’t know how many of you have had to deal with situations in which just hanging on to your ability to function took enormous effort, because someone close to you was in trouble, but I know I am not the only one.

Let me back up. Weeks ago my life was on cruise control when all of sudden, through a complicated and confusing series of events (which even now I do not understand), my eighth-grade son’s direction in life was completely derailed.  My wife and I used all our parenting skills to help get our son back on track, but it was to no avail. I had always thought that if my wife and I worked together and showed our kids our love for them, we could get through anything.  I was wrong, however, and maybe the reason I was emotional was because I realized that love was not enough.  It was a difficult concept for me to come to grips with, but only someone other than his parents could help my son. 

The public school would have to be a partner with us in this endeavor. Would they do it?  This was not about algebra skills, history tests, or even standardized test scores, this was about redirecting a child’s life.  We did not need a great lesson plan, we needed compassion and caring and not just from one person but a team of individuals.  Could they do it?  Or would they hide behind rules and policy? 

To my great relief they showed more kindness and compassion than I could have hoped for. My son became a priority to them. While we are not completely out of the woods yet, knowing that I am not alone in this battle is a great feeling.

This got me to thinking about the current state of affairs in public education being discussed in Trenton and on the talk radio airwaves, and how it is so far from the reality of the classroom. 

School districts are judged as being successful almost completely on the basis of their standardized test scores. In my son’s case, however, the school’s performance was outstanding – it helped prevent a student from losing his way. That achievement won’t show up on any standardized test scores but my wife and I were not worried about test scores. How can we measure this type of achievement?

The rhetoric being used in debates about education these days tends to paint everyone with the same broad brush – teachers, administrators, board members and even public schools themselves.  One radio talk show host uses a sarcastic line with special effects when he wants to make fun of public schools or teachers’ political positions, saying that “it is for the children.” It might be amusing but after you’ve seen teachers go above and beyond for students, such sarcasm rings hollow. In my son’s case, it was all about the kids, and the sincere caring his teachers showed helped a whole family.

As difficult as it is to write about this, while we were going through it, I could not talk about it, which is a common parental reaction, I think.  So while we may not hear a lot about these types of successes, my son’s incident is not an isolated one. While this incident may not be newsworthy, that does not mean it is not noteworthy.  Good news travels at a much slower speed than bad news and it also travels much more quietly. This was a case where New Jersey public schools performed beautifully, and I know that this type of thing is going on in schools across the state each day. Many teachers who perform acts of kindness and heroism do so quietly because that’s what’s best for the students.

Radio hosts may think it is funny to sarcastically mock public school staff about being “all about the children” and perhaps the scorn is occasionally deserved. But I know that sometimes staff members are “all about the children” because they were all about my child.  

Now when the tears well up in my eyes I know what is causing them.  They are tears of thanks – thankfulness for the public schools and their employees.    

8 Responses to “Sometimes it is all about the kids – When love is not enough”

  1. Bethany Summers Says:

    It is so good (and unfortunately, so rare) to hear postive news about schools these days. One of the biggest strengths, I think, of my small district, is the personal attention all the children recieve from the teachers and staff. They are not just numbers, they are children. I have one son who’s classified and one who is in the G&T program, and both are getting exactly what they need. I’ve always felt that their teachers really have wanted what is best for them and I have always had an open relationships with them. My prayers are with you and your family.

  2. Cassie Sucher Greeley Says:

    Dear Ray:
    You well describe the African motto for children to thrive as they develop, “It takes a village” and Bethany reinforces your loving and grateful experience, to highly value the village. The family is the root of a healthy society. The school. the classroom is the root of healthy child’s learning. We need all the components for learning in our schools: Leadership: Principals Role Model: Teachers Resources: Nurses Counselors, References: Media Specialists, Cleanliness: Custodians, Nourishment/Nutrition: Cafeteria with the best food and beverages, Exercise: Gym, Therapies; Aesthetics: Arts. Music, Dance, Recreation: Recess, Assemblies, Field Trips, and ALL, YES all are Learning about Life w others as citizens Each child, according to his and her ever evolving potential, is learnin0 that s/he is a part of the whole class, the whole learning society. S/He learn, then contribute, share, give, assist, love, care, facilitate another, declare, move towards the center, then to the periphery of the whole and back again. Their models are their first teachers: parents, then professional teachers: their class/course teachers. The message is the scaffold of growth on a slinky, moving on a cotinuum. Overlaid, it is DNA. Our Villages are the social, emotional, educational, developmental anticipators for our children to prepare them for the future, in the present. In storms they/we can learn as much as possible to do more than survive storms. We learn to live. to begin to understand storms come and go, so recognize how to thrive.

    Our children ARE our future and we love each one so….

    The center of every well developed Village is the School House and every child who plays, realizes a Triangle of home, school and worship.

    We need all adults who affect our lives to play as a child, and see the village, from the child’s view point. That is why, it IS all about children.

    You beautifully describe the nexus of our society in your own family: centered on one child at a time and you don’t give up until the child’s needs are met, with love and beyond.

  3. Marty Abschutz Says:

    I was moved by your post. All the best to your child and your family.

  4. Lee Connor Says:

    Beautifully expressed, Ray. God bless you and your family as you work through this.

    You are right–this culture of caring about the individual student is so real and is what we as board members are trying to maintain and protect. Both the NJEA and the Governor’s office need to tone down the rhetoric and get to work together. There is so much good to preserve in our public schools!

  5. Bev Darvin Cwerner Says:

    My thoughts are with you and your family during this challenging time. It is good to see something printed indicating our public schools are doing something right. As BOE members, that is what we continually strive to achieve!

  6. lynne strickland Says:

    Just read this Ray, and am moved by your words…It brings back very similar memories to me, and when these emerge they are as clear today as they were over 15 years ago. Right down to the support and care of school staff. Hang in there, progress will come and 8th grade will pass. Wish you, your wife, and especially your son, well.

  7. Susan Carlsson Says:

    I know what you’re saying because I’ve been there. It’s important for us to know and speak the truth about the job our districts do with our students. We need to tune out the noise, rhetoric, and 101.5 and be proud to advocate for our kids and schools. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Ray Pinney Says:

    To all,

    Thanks for your kind thoughts. They are greatly appreciated. Just to let you know things are going much better in large part because of the school staff.


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