Last month — just days before Connecticut’s public schools were closed due to the coronavirus — Madison superintendent Thomas Scarice sent this note to all families in town.
Last night, the Board of Education approved his appointment as Westport’s new superintendent of schools. It’s too early for “06880” to interview him. But this note — posted to Facebook’s “Westport Front Porch” page by Maria Vailakis-Wippick — offers great insight into our new education chief.
In announcing his hiring, the Board of Ed called him “a great communicator,” “intelligent,” “driven,” “innovative,” “warm” and “engaging.” Based on the message below, they nailed it.
We are about to embark on a radical departure from the normal teaching and learning process that our professionals have been trained in, and employed in our classrooms for years. This is being done over a couple of weeks in March during a global pandemic in which we are largely forbidden to connect in person. This has never been done before, nor has any educator been prepared for this moment. The conditions are almost impossible and that is not lost on me. However, there is profound focus and energy among our teachers in launching this once, and doing it right. That said, there will be obstacles and challenges. We ask that all families patiently work with us and remain flexible.
Next week, there will be further information about the scope of our distance/online learning program, set to launch March 30, at the conclusion of this short-term closure window. Our goal is to successfully launch this program while encouraging direct contact with your child’s teacher along the way. Please continue to use our optional interim learning experiences on our website in the meantime. Stay tuned for detailed information next week.
Some Final Thoughts
In February of 2016 something magical took place in the scorched arid region of California known as Death Valley. Following years of drought and unrelenting heat, one of the hottest and driest places on the planet experienced a breathtaking phenomenon. Millions of seeds lying dormant buried under the dusty desert soil collectively burst to life, carpeting the floor of this barren stretch with over 20 species of magnificent wildflowers for miles and miles in what is now called a “super bloom.” These flowers have laid dormant for years, silently waiting for the conditions to call them back to life.
As our connections and sense of purpose begin to escape us during this global crisis, nerves fray and a sobering reality settles in. It is becoming increasingly likely that school, the place of connections and purpose for our children, and the soul of any community, will be closed for the remainder of the year. For now, it will be replaced by a virtual facsimile that could never replicate the warmth of a teacher’s words, the sense of belonging our children crave. Sadly, it is also likely that we will all eventually know someone who contracts this virus, and perhaps, we will all know someone who we may lose to this virus. It is precisely in times like this where we can see the very worst and the very best in each other.
The generation we serve in our schools today was born under the shadow of 9/11, raised in terror of Sandy Hook, seduced by the perverted temptations of social media and dopamine hits, and now finds itself facing a generational crisis, all the while aching for the adults in their lives to show them their very best, in the most challenging of times. Their childhood innocence, a natural endowment, has been violently stripped. They are looking for the very best in us right now. They are counting on us.
We tend to find exactly what we are looking for in life. If you want to see the best in each other, now is the time to look for it. It is there. Perhaps it is dormant, like the millions of wildflowers below the surface of Death Valley. Right now, the conditions are right. The conditions all around us summon the very best in us, even if it lays dormant, back to life.
There are acts of kindness happening all around us, big and small. There are people subordinating their comforts for the welfare of others. If we fasten our attention to these people, and to their examples, perhaps our measure of humane kindness can outpace the spread of this contagion. The very best in us is there if we look for it. If you look around, you’ll see countless young eyes watching us, counting on us.
I want to assure you that those who care for your children every day in our schools accept the responsibility to help our community through this crisis. It is time to see our very best. If we can find a way to meet the needs of your child, perhaps it will then cascade some semblance of normalcy and solace to your family, and then perhaps throughout our entire community.
The very best in us may be out in the open, or, like the millions of wildflowers beneath the floor of the desert, it may lie dormant. Now is the time for our best to come out. Perhaps they have never counted on us any more than right now.