Letter to the editor: Our schools instill Vermont values
On February 2, 1936, exactly 45 years to the day before I was born, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, Christy Matthewson, was officially voted into the inaugural class of the baseball Hall of Fame. To this day, Matthewson still holds the all-time World Series records of four shutouts and 10 complete games. Yet in his time, Matthewson was known as much for his integrity as for his skills on the mound. He was so honest, umpires were said to have checked with him when they were unsure of a call, and he would sometimes give it to the opposing team.
At a time when baseball players were known for hard drinking and carousing, Christy Matthewson stood out for his good character. He was a role model, and he knew it. Speaking about his young fans, he said, “I feel very strongly that it is my duty to show those youth the good, clean, honest values that I was taught by my mother when I was a youngster.”
Some people, like Christy Matthewson, make an immediate, universal impression as honest and trustworthy. As we enter into our superintendent search process here in the Addison Central School District, we would be fortunate to find just such a person. It is no secret that trust has hung in the balance since we consolidated as a unified district. A leader who, by their very nature, projects sincerity and engenders universal trust, would go a long way toward shoring up confidence in our decision-making processes.
A few years after Matthewson retired from baseball, the writer George Orwell traveled to Burma to enlist in the British imperial police force. Yet soon after witnessing the overpowering of this remote land and people, he transformed into one of the world’s best-known critics of authoritarian rule. Today, his books, such as “Animal Farm” and “1984,” are still read regularly in schools, more than 70 years after they were first published.
Orwell’s real-world observations led him to change course. Often, this can be the hardest thing to do. As we seek a new leader for our district, we should look for someone who can make the hard choice to change course, if necessary, based on real-world observation. We have made several important decisions over the past few years, from consolidating our sixth grade into Middlebury Union Middle School, to implementing the International Baccalaureate curriculum. It is imperative that we be willing to evaluate the results, and shift direction if necessary, even if it means swallowing our pride. The same holds true for the many important decisions that face our district in the near future.
That future, not only here but across our state, anchored Governor Scott’s inaugural address this year. Honoring retiring Senator Patrick Leahy, the governor reflected, “What better way to honor Senator Leahy’s legacy than to deliver for your small communities the way he has delivered for our small state.” His address laid out a vision in which “our largest cities and our smallest towns have safe, welcoming neighborhoods, healthy downtowns, and reliable and resilient infrastructure.”
Underlying this vision is a central fact: Our towns are what make Vermont, Vermont. Today, in so many of our towns, our schools stand at the center. Recent Gallup polls have consistently shown Vermont to be 50th out of the 50 states in regular church attendance. About 15 years ago, the Vermont Retail and Grocer’s Association counted around 250 country stores across the state; today the number is about 90. Now more than ever, we rely on our schools to instill Vermont values in the next generation. Those values are not measured on assessment tests, but they provide strength and a solid foundation to our kids, as much as any curriculum.
Our next district leader must have an appreciation for Vermont values. Those values are enshrined in our school buildings and emanate from our town centers. They are at the heart of the governor’s vision, one that we can hope our new superintendent will share.
Our athletes, writers, political leaders, and other public figures can all serve as role models to our children and communities. Here in our school district, however, the superintendent is our top role model, one who all our kids should be able to look up to as an example to emulate. If we are fortunate enough to find a person of unequivocal integrity, with the humility to course-correct, and the vision to promote our town values through our town schools, we will have identified a potential role model for all of us.
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