In 2023: Unlearn, remain Unfinished, and elevate Student Voice

“What each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes through.”
– Thurgood Marshall, First African-American Supreme Court Justice

Another trip around the sun … another year full of hope, dreams, opportunity, and possibility, another “do-over” for us all! Over time, I have written about the power of the “do-over” that we in education get each July (the new school year). On January 1st, around the world, we each get another “do-over.”

So … what will we do over? What hopes, dreams, opportunities, and possibilities should we put forward? It’s a powerful contemplation – a powerful window with which we get to look through the world. It’s pretty awesome to be able to rest, recharge, and re-do all that makes sense. In my profession, it’s all about creating conditions for educators to support and enrich youth — we teach, we create learning spaces for children and young adults, and we create the future (I know … it’s a bit lofty — but we in education work in the profession that creates all other professions, we’re at the foundation of humanity).  Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic on the first day of the new year, or perhaps I’m embellishing our impact as educators; perhaps, I’m right!

In my personal and professional career in public education, 2023 marks my 31st year of service as a public school educator (teacher, school administrator, district administrator, and I’m finishing my 13th year as a public school superintendent). In the year of my country, we’re entering our  247th year as a free nation. It’s the 13th year of the iPad … 2023 is many things to many people. From the new AI tool, when I entered the search query: “what does the year 2023 represent, I received the following machine-generated response:

The year 2023 is the 2023rd year in the Gregorian calendar. It is a common year, meaning it has 365 days in total. 2023 is the 23rd year of the 21st century and the 4th year of the 2020s decade.

I share the AI (artificial intelligence) response as an interesting “statement” as to what’s going on “technologically speaking.” I (or anyone) can enter a search query, and this new tool can generate a “Human-Like” chat with me about just about anything. So … I’ve been an educator before the internet, during its birth, before Google … and so on. In our 2017 book, The Unlearning Leader: Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today (Rowman & Littlefield), Nick Polyak and I wrote, in chapter 1,

Times have changed. Ten years ago, superintendents and principals used the U.S. Postal Service to support communication and leadership. They used paper memos and inter-office envelopes and even voicemail. Teachers would send a paper newsletter home each week. Communication today is instant and immediate. Today’s superintendents,  today’s teachers, and today’s students are connected 24/7 and are able to communicate with blogs, audio, video, text messaging, e-mail, and any number of social media applications like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Remind, Voxer, Snapchat, etc.
The past ten years have shown significant changes in terms of consumption of information and “fingertip” access. Yes, times have changed. Communication has changed, but the importance of communication in support of leadership and innovation remains the same. Today’s superintendent knows how to leverage the power of technology to harness effective and impactful communication. Today’s teachers share learning examples in real time.

This was a reflection on communication from 2006-2016. Now, 7 years later, with exponential growth and change in technology, communication tools, “fingertip access,” and the worldwide global pandemic (and related trauma, change, silver linings – all of the above), there have been even more powerful real-time examples of how teachers and superintendents can enhance and improve their abilities to communicate and to lead.

In our 2021 book, The Unfinished Leader: A School Leadership Framework for Growth & Development (Rowman & Littlefield), Nick Polyak, PJ Caposey, and I write about Managing Change with New Information (Chapter 11 in Part V: Communication).

The most important thing is transforming our minds, for a new way of thinking, a new outlook: we should strive to develop a new inner world.Dalai Lama

If you are reading this book, we can say with near certainty that you make critical decisions and problem solve every day.  Oftentimes when we are pushed into making a critical decision there is not a singular answer that can satisfy the problem at hand. Instead, you call on  your prior experiences, the input of trusted colleagues and mentors, and the input of your affected stakeholders. 

What we are certain of is that as a leader you will be faced with problems and issues in the future that seem unimaginable right now. The world is changing at an exponential rate.  Understanding that fact is crucial, and understanding how to successfully navigate those problems and issues is what will make the unfinished leader ultimately successful.

So, as we embrace the changes, both known/predictable and unknown/unpredictable, with the dawn of the year 2023, I share a sense of wonder, excitement, anticipation, and hope for the good that we as a human race can offer, that we as educators can create, and that we as writers can share with the world! It’s always time to “unlearn”, remain “unfinished,” and embrace the “do-over” as the calendars clear for 12 more months.

End of Chapter feature in our book – To hear the voice of students, just “ask’em”!

Finally, in our 2018 book, Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable (Rowman & Littlefield), we conclude with a call to action, so as we embark on 2023, as a long-time public school educator, I suggest that the resolutions we should have in addition to Unlearning and remaining Unfinished, should be to elevate student voice and agency in your public school system. In conclusion,

This book is about one thing – building upon the kids-first mentality that all great educators have and transforming the mentality of serving kids first to serving with kids first. This book is our call to action. This book should provide a sense of urgency and a corresponding hope for the future. Our greatest asset is (and always will be) our students.

ASK’EM

Ask: Ask students to think big and ask them to think about where their voice being heard would have the greatest impact on the school.

Support: We have taken some of the brilliance from students over time and they may not know how to react to this question. It is your job to ensure that they reach into their Kindergarten heart and mind to be fearless and to guarantee that their imagination has no bounds.

Know: Nobody knows your kids as well as you do. This is a change, and it is a change that they may not initially trust. It will most likely take leadership at the individual student level to help create student ownership as part of the culture of your building.

Empower: Great leaders set floors for performance but never ceilings. Create an environment that empowers your students to lead change and dream big.

Monitor: Giving students an opportunity to have their voice heard and not acting on it will cause significant regression in your building. It is important to understand that this process is fluid and ongoing. Change is incremental and not linear. It is necessary to monitor the level of success of incorporating student voice at every turn.


Happy & Healthy New Year!

12 Minute Podcast – What is on the Ballot? #112Leads Long Range Planning

North Shore School District 112 has faced aging facilities since its inception as a school district in 1993. Over the past several years, the Board has closed schools, reduced the number of employees, and focused on efficient operations while still keeping education as the #1 priority area. Surviving the recent worldwide global pandemic as well as the recent political upheavals nationally, regionally, and locally, the District keeps its eyes on addressing its present so that it may create its future for the 3900 students and the tens of thousands of residents impacted by its operations.

In this episode of the District 112 Podcast, Lighthouse 112, the focus is on the “why” and the “what” for the November 8 ballot – there is a referendum/ballot question for the voters to decide upon a request for $114,400,000 in bond authority to modernize, upgrade, and renovate five elementary schools and provide enhanced physical security for all campuses.

Tómese 12 minutos para aprender para qué sirve el referéndum, ¿cómo hemos llegado hasta aquí? ¿Qué estamos haciendo?

El Distrito Escolar 112 de North Shore se ha enfrentado a instalaciones envejecidas desde su creación como distrito escolar en 1993. En los últimos años, la Junta ha cerrado escuelas, reducido el número de empleados y se ha centrado en operaciones eficientes sin dejar de mantener la educación como el #Área prioritaria nº 1. Sobreviviendo a la reciente pandemia mundial, así como a las recientes convulsiones políticas a nivel nacional, regional y local, el Distrito mantiene sus ojos en abordar su presente para poder crear su futuro para los 3900 estudiantes y las decenas de miles de residentes afectados por sus operaciones.

En este episodio de Lighthouse 112, la atención se centra en el “por qué” y el “qué” para la boleta electoral del 8 de noviembre – hay un referéndum / pregunta de la boleta para que los votantes decidan sobre una solicitud de $ 114,400,000 en la autoridad de bonos para modernizar, actualizar y renovar cinco escuelas primarias y proporcionar una mayor seguridad física para todos los campus.

Calls to Action – Reflections from Superintendent Conference #NSR2022

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Reflections and Calls to action from the convening of the National Superintendent Roundtable

Atlanta, Georgia – October 14-16, 2022 – #NSR2022

Education for Democracy is the theme of this year’s Roundtable conference. There is a sense of urgency now for the P-20/K-12 school leaders to advance the purposes, successes, stories, and narrative of Public Education. This convening of superintendents and business partners from across the USA was another engaging, inspiring, and motivating set of discussions, thought leaders provoking discomfort, and true leadership challenges in a safe, inviting, and inspirational location.
American demographics are shifting, and the American need for civics and history is more pronounced now than possibly at any time in our history; privatization forces threaten not only public schools but the nation itself; it’s incumbent upon us to amplify the narrative of public education and tell our stories! In this blog post, I share notes, thoughts, and reflections. I also share some calls to action for myself and us all. It’s possible that our way of life depends on this!

From time to time, I write about and reflect upon “what a superintendent does” since there are not too many of us in consideration of the overall educational community. We are multi-faceted, complex leaders faced with dynamic challenges woven into the tapestry of our nation, our states, our regions, our towns, and of course, our school districts/organizations/divisions.

What is “now” that is needed is clarity around the value proposition of public schools for democracy. The conference title of the National Superintendents Roundtable was Education for Democracy. We learned from speakers ranging from university leaders to national reporters to each other. We gathered at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum and reviewed and interacted with our nation’s history, our own leadership stories, and our personal contributions to this point. We are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational group of leaders, scholars, and advocates for democracy, public schools, and the urgency of NOW.

Our charge, our challenge, and their call to us for action involve rebuilding the capacity for people to believe in the schools! Ask for students’ voices – what can school be/become – what is it?

The purposes of public schooling are inherent in promoting democracy and civics. The public school is the public institution where ALL gather. They are NOT free private schools … they are community/state/national benefitted since EVERY person in the community benefits from the fact that the public schools educate the communities children. The workforce benefits from public school investments. The community benefits from public school investments. The public schools are a benefit for us ALL.

In this blog post, I will share some reflections from the amazing speakers and a few calls to action. One call to action is to VOTE – clearly, the most fundamental right of the people in a democracy is the right to VOTE. I have never taken this right for granted. I vote in every general election and in some primary elections. I encourage my family members to vote; I don’t really care for whom or for what you vote – I genuinely care, though, that you do, in fact, get out to vote. It’s a cherished right that many in our nation did not have and had to fight for – not too long ago! Some still have to fight for this right – it is crazy but true.

Another call to action is for everyone in a public school leadership position to share the public education narrative. Tell our stories. Tell your stories. Share the realities that exist in the most democratic INFRASTRUCTURE of our nation and of any functioning democracy.

My colleagues at this conference are among the finest in the land, and each has a great role in getting our work at the forefront of the national discussion. While the Pandemic impacted some of the visceral local disagreements and nationally, there are some localized conflicts and controversies, the bottom line is our nation’s students are learning and growing, they are succeeding, and the institution of the public school is a national treasure worth fighting for, understanding, and preserving. We’re certainly not perfect, and as I often state, we will never let perfect be or become the enemy of good!

A quote that the Roundtable prefaced in the materials for the conference is from one of our nation’s hero presidents: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

National Superintendents Round Table (NSR) and the Schlecty Center have joined forces; the overarching themes of each speaker and each thought session were designed to: 

  • Help us think about education’s role of being “the answer”
  • Serving public education
  • Value of public education

Before we began to engage with one another and our speakers, we discussed, as a group where is the sense of urgency as a nation – for public schools? Education in general? We each reinforced what we hold as self-evident; the students are our WHY- We also started to describe and illustrate the multiple challenges facing public education from all sides all over the nation.

We started by listening to some amazing student singers from the M.E. Stilwell School of the Arts – Wow! It was a great kick-off – hats off to Dr. Morcease Beasely, NSR member and one of the local host superintendents!

As a group, we reinforced our strongly held beliefs about the value of public education – the reality that we as superintendents need to lead & engage communities – and that we convened to learn, connect and reflect on the real trouble and challenges we face, and more urgently and more important, what our nation’s youth face!

We began by looking at demographics – facts tell the story – the world is changing. Thanks to Dr. James Johnson from the University of North Carolina for scaring us and inspiring us to realize that reality is … well – real.

Dr. Johnson illustrated to us that we are in the midst of a massive demographic transformation. We are in a disruptive demographic change. Transformation is and will impact K-12 and Higher Ed. These forces are and will also impact the US and the global economies.

Data shows that the Pandemic also had major demographic impacts. Dr. Johnson shared and showed the profound regional population redistribution in our nation. 

Dr. Jim succeeded in helping us to create a common understanding of what’s happening around us – facts don’t lie – they illustrate realities.

What do young people need in their toolkits to weather the certainty of uncertainty?

Dr. Johnson posits, “We need people who can groove on ambiguity!”

Sharing some “notes” from Dr. Johnson’s lecture:

1970-present, the South has captured a majority of in-migration.

Destination – added 22.7 Million during the 2010-2020 period

2010-2020–Who is coming to the South – “everybody”

NE and Midwest to West and SOUTH

Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia – “migration magnet” states growing faster than the other southern states 79% of the share of in-migration in the South

What about during the Pandemic?

South gained about a million more people in 15 months of the Pandemic

Midwest lost 144K people

          NE lost 449K people

West gained 80K people

The South got “pandemic refugees” from Midwest and NE, and they stayed – they did not come back to NE or MW

Dr. Johnson also emphasized how We also have the browning and graying of America

Highlights of his commentary on this topic:

  • 1965 was a crucial year in immigration history
  • Before this – law was related to racial/ethnic balance from 1900 – preference of white people to be blunt
  • 1965 – Quota system that was regionally discriminatory to foreign people who were not white
  • Nation managed the composition of the population via immigration laws
  • In 1965 (coincidentally with Civil Rights Movement) – the Hart Celler Act of 1965 – eliminated immigration restrictions based on people who were previously not eligible to immigrate
  • Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

2000-2010 Census in the USA

2MM White, or 1.2%

15MM Hispanic, or 43%

4MM Asian, or 42%

The demographic shift is like a Gale Force Wind Dr. Johnson shares, transforming the workforce, the public schools, and the entire nation – people are leaving the Northeast and the Midwest.

Beyond the population shifts, the “color” of America is browning and graying as fewer white people are born and more people of color are born, more mixed-race marriages produce children, and more Americans live longer and “gray”. The demographic shifts have historic and policy foundations.

  • Intermarriage in the USA 1967-2015
  • Before 1967 it was illegal in the USA for black and white people to marry
  • The growing role of immigration, the growing role of inter-racial marriage, browning and graying of America – 2 or more races is a category growing rapidly – not “neat little boxes” for people
  • US Life Expectancy 1900 47.3, 2010, 78.3, 2030, 100

Right now, we have five Generations in the workplace – the implications are crazy!

Silver Generation – pre-boomer, Baby Boomer, Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z

In addition to the demographic shifts, population/race/age, there is another factor Dr. Johnson shared:

He calls it “Disappearing & Rebelling”

  • 2020 Census trend – slowing of total population growth in the USA 
  • Rate of growth – peaked in 1960, 18.5% growth, grown slower progressively in every decade since then, such that in the last decade, 7.4% growth. The second slowest rate of growth in the history of the USA since 1790; the slowest was Great Depression which was 7.3%
  • Trends to continue to be lower
  • Far-ranging implications for everything – changes are here and are coming

First 15 months of the Pandemic – the first time in history – we added less than half a million in 15 months – the first time we did not grow history by 1MM per year – this is PROFOUND

Total Fertility Rate is below 2.1 in the USA – need 2.1 to replace yourself (mathematical index) – we’re losing more humans than we’re getting – on a large scale

In 2018 deaths outnumbered births among whites in more than half of the nation’s 50 states

Deaths of Despair and Declining Life Expectancy – due to suicide, alcohol, and drugs – 90,000 drug overdoses in the first year of the pandemic, a 30% increase over 2019 – the biggest increase in overdose deaths – overwhelming

100K in 2021 (prime working age people 25-44)

COVID-19 impact on fertility. Estimated 300K population decline

Globally 10MM kids lost parents – became orphaned during the pandemic – 550K in the USA

The Great Resignation – increased labor activism – it’s real – the impact is far-reaching

There is a grand reckoning among us = create a new workplace – a new normal – make workers excited to stay – culture and climate

Our next speaker was also inspiring and clarifying! Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick – from Howard University and the author of Jim Crow’s Pink Slip – the untold story of black principal and teacher leadership, took us to a powerful place in reckoning our American history, Supreme Court decision implications (Brown V. Board of Education 1954), and MORE!

She asked us and helped us contemplate our sense of urgency — to whom must we invest? Equitable educational opportunity & access to education – this is elusive in some locales – still, even today in 2022 – why?

Dr. Fenwick reminded us that a national treasure is at the Smithsonian US National Museum of African American History – there is vast and accessible digital access to PK-12 instructional materials! in schools across the nation! The truth must be told; the objective, fact-based journeys of our ancestors and the ancestors of our countrymen and women can be told and accessed by all.

In addition, she reminded us that the Pulitzer Center has resources as well, including the 1619 project and various perspectives in US history. 

Dr. Fenwick called upon us to “bust myths.” “Let’s mine and disseminate accurate data! Let’s remove negative stories and statistics – let’s find assets, not deficits – for example, there are more Black men in college, 1.6MM vs. Black men in prison, 600K, in the USA – what are prevailing stereotypes? Need to “myth bust.”

Dr. Fenwick’s book, research, and US historical data shed light on our realities. She reminds us and calls us to follow historical facts, not myths. The landmark US Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, KS (1954) overturned the 1890s case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, which called “segregation” illegal. This policy was long overdue, and our nation is obviously better off due to this heroic and historic decision.

But … like physics laws, every action has equal (and often opposing) reactions. So while schools were desegregated and integrated by law/policy, there were also some profoundly negative implications. Dr. Fenwick illustrates in her book, and from US history, that as an unintended consequence of the Brown ruling, an entire class and multiple generations of Black educators were eliminated from America. This is a direct cause of today’s underrepresented educators of color across the nation.

Dr. Fenwick shares that 100K black principals and teachers were fired, demoted, and displaced from the 1954 Brown decision to mid-1970 – there was racist and political resistance to having black educators teach and lead alongside whites. Black educators were replaced by less qualified whites. 17 “dual system” states (Delaware to Texas) – Black peers were fired – this was a horrible consequence of the Brown decision. 

This was not because the Black educators were less qualified. On the contrary, as early as 1926, the all Black faculty held Masters’s degrees, same in the 1930s – often they went North and earned degrees from higher ed universities. In the 1960s, after desegregation, white faculty had lower rates of master’s degrees. White superintendents and school boards were pressed to hire more educators; they turned to more whites and ignored and displaced existing and well-qualified Black educators. This was not the intent of desegregation. Turning desegregation into a “students only” situation exacerbated the lack of a Black educational force to work integrated alongside the white educators. This impacts us today.

Why today is there an underrepresentation of people of color in the nation’s schools and boardrooms, and principals’ offices – history illustrates this – policies fighting against the law of the land caused generations of Black teachers and principals to be deposed, displaced, demoted, and fired. They were removed from education. They have not returned! This is true history – not political, judgmental, ideological – simply the truth. And reckoning with the truth will be our only salvation and progression.

What does it mean to American schooling? Had these Black professionals been integrated into the post-Brown decision educational profession as integrated professionals, instead of being expelled, we would have a far different reality today – representation, legacy, history, reality. Would societal and institutional racism and racist policies have been so prevalent had the integration of schools been for both students and faculty? Would the need for so much “focus” on DEI today be necessary had the nation simply moved forward integrating adults and children?

A myth Dr. Fenwick busted is that  Black educators did not “flee” education after Brown since they had more opportunities in the newly desegregated workforces – they were removed due to resistance to black educators joining white educators in a similar post-Civil War “reconstruction” era revision of the Jim Crow laws that took hold in the USA following the progressive 13, 14, and 15 Amendments to the US Constitution. One needs to look at the Hayes election in the USA and then dismantle “equality” policies with the 1899 Plessy vs. Ferguson case, with codified “separate but equal” was clear and equal was not.

We have the power to change trajectories for kids, communities, and our nation. Dr. Fenwick’s call to action is to simply learn, acknowledge, learn from, tell the truth, and transform our public schools (and society) to reap the rewards of democracy and to realize the vision of so many who fight for equality, equity, dignity, and the American ideals of life, liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness for all of us. Not just for some of us.

     At this powerful conference, we also benefitted from Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss and the authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door authors Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire

So what is a “good school” … continuing narratives about public school value – public school critical space in our society

They, too, call us to action with fact, not a myth; as an example, even though research shows that public schools have better outcomes than those in the private sector (check Univ VA research), some privatization folks claim the contrary.

They discussed: How is privatization affecting public schools, and why is this dangerous?

Advocates for parental rights & private school/choice – they want this to be a “litmus” test issue politically

Public education is in danger in many states (eg – Florida… Texas …)

Funding and widespread disinformation campaigns

We pondered, “What does the future of schooling look like?” Our aim and their directions for us is to try to make clear to people that the vision of an alternative to public education is NOT hyper elite – instead, a voucher system, for example, loses oversight, loses accountability, loses rights … etc.

We also had an incredible visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum, sharing some cool pictures from that inspiring and eye-opening

Reminder about  5o years of American history – on display!

The purposes of public schooling are inherent in promoting democracy and civics. The public school is the public institution where ALL gather.

So, as part of the evolving stories about “what superintendents do,” the essence is that we lead. We listen. We learn. We challenge ourselves to be uncomfortable and unfinished. And we, of course, help one another unlearn so we can relearn!

Progress in District 112 – Solar Energy – Construction – Future #112Leads

In North Shore School District 112, we are focused on our “Big Three” – Closing of Opportunity & Achievement Gaps, the Portrait of a Graduate, and Facilities Upgrades & Modernization. We are in Year 5 of a potential 12 year, Three-Phase plan to upgrade & modernize all campuses, eliminate long standing differed maintenance challenges and to stabilize finances & facilities needs for decades to come!

With facilities issues resolved, we’ll be able to focus far more effort, energy, expertise and engagement to learning & teaching – our main mission and priorities!

Please check out the “slides” used at a recent Open House at Northwood Middle School, planned for, funded, designed, and constructed from 2018-2021; opening in the midst of the Pandemic and flourishing for students, staff, and community! Following the slides, I’ve embedded the video of the “solar tour” that highlights the community and Board commitment to the global environment. Our Future is NOW in D112 – Inspire — Innovate — Engage!

Solar Tour Video (it may not play in the slides above, or if you wish to see it separately)

Solar Panel Video FALL 2022 NSSD112 from North Shore School District 112 on Vimeo.

Final Reflections – DR Service Trip 2022

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.”– Jana Stanfield

August 10, 2022

Justin and I finished our amazing adventures and life-changing trip with so many peak moments on Saturday, August 6. We left Constanza around 6am and headed down the mountain for under 4 hours. We spent some time in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. We toured the old city, flew to Miami, then to Chicago, and arrived home around 1:30am. We were energized (though sleepy).

Before we headed to the airport, we visited the old colonial city, the oldest fort in the Americas. We saw a raucous public demonstration regarding immigration policies headed for Independence square, where we had just visited.

To spend this time with my son was incredible and fun and a huge proud, peak moment for me. As Justin enters his Freshman year of high school and I as I start what is very likely my 4th to last year as a full-time public educator, we both got to laugh, enjoy each other’s company, serve together, work together, experience life together, and so much more!

Ideally, he and I will have more opportunities like this! Ideally, he has the confidence to travel and serve as he goes from young adulthood to adulthood. He is an incredible young man, and I am proud to be his dad.

As a life-long educator, I see firsthand how education with emotion and education with hands-on experiential opportunities becomes lifelong learning. Thanks a ton for following our adventures! Thanks a ton for letting me brag about my son 🙂

Finishing up an amazing week with Justin! In Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic- First Nation Columbus came to the Americas. Culture and history end our adventures here! 

Sharing some images. The first cathedral, live protest March heading to Independence Square, 16th Century city walls.

Oldest fort in the Americas! Wow! So much history… need to come back!! 16th Century-20th Century. In use for various purposes. So many socio-political implications here!!

Thanks to World Servants, LifeTouch, the AASA, Cecaini Foundation, and so many others who, together in service for humanity and in furtherance of the dreams and visions of Pastors Angel and Jacqueline Moreta, have built schools and changed lives — forever!! Including those of my son and me.

Gun Turret in the oldest fort in the Americas, La Forteleza Ozama
Beautiful view on the way to the airport in Santo Domingo
One of the cannons – one is Spanish, and another is English – so much history!

5th Reflection – Dominican Republic Service Trip – Reflections

In this post, I am sharing more reflections, thoughts, and images from a LifeTouch Memory Mission reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, Constanza, La Vega, and Cecaini School in Rio Grande. In these several blog posts, I’m sharing my reflections. One major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the LifeTouch Memory Mission trip to the Dominican Republic and I was a representative of AASA, The Superintendent’s Association. I wrote about that set of life-changing experiences on my blog — BLOG POSTS ABOUT TRIP IN 2016

Sharing short posts from August  3, 4, and 5 with images

August 3, 2022

Today’s post will have a collection of images that really help tell the story and illustrate the incredible impact, humble service, powerful relationship building, and overall cultural experiences we are privileged to be engaged with.

Today our Dominican hosts and teachers encourage us to slow down and enjoy every moment. The figurative saying that one rock creates a ripple, or one journey of 1000 miles begins with one step, or to lower a rock pile one must do it one rock at a time, became a reality.

We literally reduced a large rock pile one rock at a time. We slowed down to enjoy each moment we were immersed in this incredible location. We savor every minute with the children we have the honor and privilege of playing with daily. And we savor each moment we spent getting to know our Dominican hosts as people, as friends, and his fellow world citizens.

Thank you for sticking around and following Justin and my adventures in life.

August 4, 2022

Today Was another incredible day here in the Dominican republic. Justin and I continue to do really good hard work and enjoy playing with the children and engaging with members of the community. 

Yesterday Justin had his home visit today I had my own visit and it’s really awesome to step inside someone’s home sit down, have a cuppa coffee, learn about their family, and share about yours. We build community, relationships, and friendships and help improve the schools that have become community centers that have impacted and changed the community for the better. 

Tonight‘s post is going to have a lot of photos. I’m going to switch (from posting on Facebook) to my blog to put in longer reflections which I probably will post over the weekend if not sooner.

Thank you for experiencing our journeys together through our words and photos.

August 5, 2022

Deeper reflections will be posted on my blog in the next few days.

Bittersweet end of work today!  Jobs well done. Friendships created!

Life-changing adventures!

Sharing some more images from our mission, culture, service, and “life” trip to the Dominican Republic 🇩🇴- sorry if there are some repeats.

Justin and I are preparing for our final day in Cecaini Constanza Constanza today!

Part of the overall beautification project in the back – many separate projects went one here. The tires will become planters!

Tim Gibson – an amazing leader! Wise, kind, deliberate, intentional, experienced – just amazing! And me and Nick – our worldwide adventures and friendship take us to life-changing places!

Justin made many new friends on this trip, little and big!
We did enjoy some “grilled” ice cream!
Our incredible crew – wonderful people who we are proud to call friends!
Proud to highlight contributions from AASA and members over the years!

4th in a series -Dominican Republic Service, Mission, Culture Trip Reflections 2022

In this post, I am sharing more reflections, thoughts and images from a LifeTouch Memory Mission reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, to Constanza, La Vega, to the Cecaini School in Rio Grande. On these several blog posts, I’m sharing my reflections.

Once major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the LifeTouch Memory Mission trip to the Dominican Republic and I was a representative of AASA, The Superintendent’s Association. I wrote about that set of life-changing experiences on my blog — BLOG POSTS ABOUT TRIP IN 2016

August 2, 2022

What a day and night we had today! We put in a full day’s worth of hard labor at the Rio Grande Cecaini School — it was amazing and fulfilling on many levels.

A mural in the cafeteria painted by Ken, the amazing painter, teacher, and friend!
Justin painting and learning a lot of Spanish from Ken
Time with the children of Rio Grande was a highlight for each of us every day!
Nick and Domingo removed the well used rim and net in preparation for replacement “break away” and new nets.
Pam was an amazing painter!
We all helped wherever we could.
Friendship between our two nations.
As we enter Rio Grande, the sign by the bridge!
The building behind the basketball court was built just before and just after the Pandemic. It will house a library, computer lab, infirmary — for the school and the community. We finished this building (paint, window guards) on this trip.
The beautiful views of the countryside were breathtaking.
Our awesome crew with representation from all over the USA! New Hampshire, Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Minnesota
Jan was an excellent painter!
I spent a lot of time back here – moving rocks, raking rocks, moving dirt, moving sand, making planters out of tires, pouring concrete, learning a ton from Domingo.
We made a lot of concrete. We used cement mix, water, sand, rocks, and dirt. And we mixed it A LOT
Every morning we started by gathering as a group, getting instructions from our Dominican hosts and experts (Ken and Domingo) and establishing our work teams, expectations and goals!
By the end of the trip each room was painted well, cleaned up and the window frames/decorative and security bars were installed.

Tonight’s Face Book post had less text and more photos – it was more of an Insta Gram type post vs the “blog” type posts I have shared the first few days of our adventures on Face Book.

Justin and I, along with our new friends and community are humbled by so much we are seeing, doing, and learning in Rio Grande, Dominican Republic. Today we were able to apply learning, enter into new cultural space, learn, do, build, create, play, speak, and engage with an entirely new set of people.

It’s fun to paint, to sand, to scrape, to fix up, to mix concrete, to put glue on PVC  pipes for plumbing, to move rocks, to move dirt, to connect PVC tubes … that’s all  a lot of what’s depicted in the pictures.

It’s also nothing short of amazing to walk the street leading up to the school with the neighborhood kids who waited hours to play with us and to hang out with us and to speak with us and learn about our families and share with us about theirs!

Today we started with a quote from President Ronald Reagan, “live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest of God..” The word for today was generous. While it might appear that we were generous, I submit that the people of Rio Grande at Cecaini School are the ones who are generous. Ken the head painter – he is amazing. Domingo the head engineer – he, too, is amazing. They and the entire community shares their generosity allowing us into their culture, their school, their homes — their generosity is humbling and powerful.

Tonight we reflected on our experiences, we discussed the applications for learning. We enjoyed being in our collective and individual spaces. Until tomorrow

Third in a series on Dominican Republic Service trip 2022

Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful & fulfilled life.”
– Jack Canfield

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the LifeTouch Memory Mission trip to the Dominican Republic and I was a representative of AASA, The Superintendent’s Association. I wrote about that set of life-changing experiences on my blog — BLOG POSTS ABOUT TRIP IN 2016

This is another post, the third in a series describing and showing the creation of peak moments in service, learning, and culture. This summer, July 30-August 6, my son and I went on a reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, to Constanza, La Vega, to the Cecaini School in Rio Grande. Through these blog posts, I’m sharing my reflections.

Once major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂

August 1, 2022

We engaged in thoughtful, hands-on activities to help us get to know ourselves, share about ourselves with our new friends, and to get to know our friends.
We focused on learning, doing, and reflecting. What did we learn or experience? “So what”, “Now What” – we learned about each other, we served with each other, we started as strangers and left as friends!

Today we continued cultural orientation with some really engaging activities designed to activate and challenge our thinking, help us prepare to enter a new culture — it’s beyond simply “traveling” or “touring”, it’s more. The activities also allowed our group of 18 to further develop bonds of trust, fellowship, friendship, and camaraderie. We have a mix of “middle aged people” like me 🙂 people in their 20s-30s and some teenagers 14-19. In addition, our tour leader is very experienced in these types of travels and our translator is amazing! While our ages may range from 14-75, the depth of each one of our stories and, more important, the stories of our Dominican hosts, guides, teachers, and friends, makes an impact on each of us each day during each of the varied experiences.

Our day today was focused on preparation for entering into a new culture, as I mentioned above. Our leader Tim started the day with inspiring words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., regarding the “Good Samaritan” “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” If you are blessed, who are YOU blessing? The focus is that if you are blessed but you are not blessing anyone, then you are not really blessed. We discussed not mistaking joy for happiness (there was great depth in our lessons and reflection today, again!).

The gist of the whole World Servants meaning on trips like this is learning, serving, storytelling- “Learner, Servant, Storyteller”. Tell your story AND tell others’ stories. We were reminded to stop — listen — immerse in the target culture – find out what’s going on with others. It’s like the Dominican greeting, “Que lo Que” (“what’s up”). We are here to learn, serve and tell our collective stories.

We engaged in several hands, on, experiential learning activities today — I hope and plan to adapt for my own work as an educator. We completed a puzzle that was different from what we expected. We put squares together from shapes without speaking (when we followed the rules :)), we discovered there are many more ways to complete the task than meets the eye. Repeatedly we changed our perspectives through “doing” and reflecting after doing. It was exceptional pedagogy.

As Americans we’re pretty task focused in general, and as a school superintendent I’m really task focused. So, it’s powerful and smart for me to stop — listen — be immersed in the present and in the moment – especially for my son as well as the group I’m serving with (and learning with and story telling with). It’s NOT always about the task — and the task may change, and the “square” we make might prevent someone else from making a square – so take some time and really listen and observe (the points of the activities).  The bottom line from these activities and a few others we did with culture role plays and trust guiding all led to a common point. It’s about the “dash” — it’s about the PROCESS not only or always the task.

Prior to engaging in the actual physical labor, the engagement with the community, and even the recreation with the children after work, we reminded each other through task, word, deed, and activity that teamwork was the main aim of our time together. Each one of us would meaningfully engage, immerse, do, learn, serve, have fun, and “be”— as a team. We do then we reflect then we do more. The orientation activities were well designed, clear, meaningful, allowed us to mix up and work with everyone, and to generally create community as well as expectations for our intense labors of love and service.

We went to Rio Grande to the school where our work is focused, where the school is becoming the community center, and where I was six and a half years ago when it all started here at school #2! Due to the hundreds of other volunteers and service participants, the school is far more than merely a school. Don’t get more wrong, as a superintendent, a school in and of itself is pretty awesome and amazing. BUT … when a school becomes a community center, a community playground, a community health center – it’s beyond amazing.

The last time I was in Rio Grande the roads were gravel/dirt leading up to the school site (it was not yet a school). School 1 was built by groups prior (2011-2015). In 2016, the second school was a dream about to happen. We built the first floor and a wall – we played in a cow pasture up the road! Today – 6.5 years and a lifetime later, we have a beautiful school with two floors, a basketball court, a retaining wall, vibrancy, life, jobs, hope, and we’re finishing a health center.

In the years since this school opened, the government invested in the infrastructure. They began to assume some of the salary responsibilities for the employees (the community had to prove their concept prior to government support/sponsorship). The schools were built by Dominican engineers, construction works, professionals who guided scores of volunteers over the course of many years and many private funds raised and donated. It’s a colossal partnership that is more than a decade in the making. The constant has been World Servants and their support. A great lift was from LifeTouch (the photography company) through its Memory Missions that brought educators, photographers, and others together year after year after year.

The community is united in service. The community is united in hope. The community is growing, improving, sustaining, living, and thriving in great part due to the school and the relationships built and sustained for more than a decade.

We worked really hard today and you’ll see that in the images.

Thank you for following our adventures. Justin is checking out Duo Lingo, practicing Spanish with kids, adults, etc. We’re beyond blessed to have this time together as father and son and as we learned today, we’re sharing these blessings, per Dr. King and Tim Gibson, in learning, service and storytelling!

We’ll share more tomorrow. Hat tip to Jan Haeg for the awesome photos. Today we put our phones away – we disconnected for as long as we could and we were in the moments fully and today was full of many peak moments.

View of the school from the “comedor”, lunchroom. Looking at the sand/rock/earth pile – we spent a lot of time making concrete at that pile for our multiple projects.
The sign at the bridge from the mountain road into the community of Rio Grande, where our school was!
Our crew on one of the many bus rides!
Huge infrastructure investments from the government, in part, due to the success of the school! The community center, the change in hope, opportunity, pathway, family outlook, and so much more!
Me and Justin out of our hotel room heading to dinner!
Teamwork, Teamwork, and more Teamwork.
Each morning we gathered and took directions from our Dominican hosts! Ken on the paint crew and Domingo on the concrete crew. We did what was asked, we learned as apprentices and helpers. We served along side and with our new friends and hosts!

 

More Reflections – Dominican Republic Service & Culture Trip 2022 – 2

This summer, July 30-August 6, I went on a reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, to Constanza, La Vega, to the Cecaini School in Rio Grande. On the next few posts, I’m sharing my reflections.

Once major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂

July 31, 2022

What a full and fulfilling day and night here in Constanza, Dominican Republic. Justin and I started the day with a fantastic breakfast. New tastes and foods along with some familiar ones. After a great breakfast with the group, we headed into a study room for more cultural orientation activities. We participated in a “scrap book” activity. One that my good friend Nick Polyak and I have adapted and adopted in adult professional development & training for many years (we first did this activity 6 and a half years ago on our first mission and service/culture trip here in Constanza with LifeTouch and the American Association of School Administrators, the AASA, The School Superintendents Organization).

So in this scrapbook activity you have a poster board, glue sticks, scissors, and magazines on multiple topics (everyone was asked to bring 3-5 magazines to cut up). With images, “share your story” — who are you? What is/has been your leadership journey? Whether you’re 14 or 54 or 60 or 35, what’s your journey in life so far and what is a graphical representation of this story? In 15 minutes – NOT a long period of time, we made some pretty cool posters. Then we mixed up into triads, triads with people we just met on this trip. We each had 3 minutes to share our journey/story. Our new friends and partners had two minutes to reflect/ask questions and we repeated the process for each member of the triad. In just over 30 minutes we three learned A TON about each other, what and who we value, what our journey is/has been, etc. Like an image you see, you make a “judgement” or “assumption” but until you listen, look, ask questions, engage, you really do not know what the “perspective” you have is. In fact, our perspectives change – and they should change and be pliable (think “growth mindset” for example).

The exercise serves multiple purposes, it allows us to become friends and fellow travelers, explorers, servants, leaders. It also allows us to be fully present in what we are doing here – each experience, each set of moments and peak moments. It allows us to experience an illustration of the power of open mindedness to change (one of the Big 5 Personality Theories of human being) as we embark on community building and service along side our Dominican hosts and friends.

We were invited to Pastor Angel’s church, the message was of hope and faith, universal principals good for us all to hear and internalize. In addition, today is Father’s Day in the Dominican Republic and we were honored with some cool cultural experiences! We then walked about a half mile through town for our lunch at a local restaurant. We had some time dodging motorbikes on the street while enjoying the act of being present in a new town, in a new space, with new learning and living.

Each night after dinner we reflect upon our learnings and experiences, What, Now What, So What, and Applying our learning is the focus. Tomorrow we engage in some more education, “activating schema” and opening our hearts and minds to full presence of being while here (and in life in general).

Tomorrow we also head to the school site for some manual labor at the invitation of our hosts and community. See some images today from our adventures in the city, our time at Pastor Angel’s church, some recreation and fellowship with our fellow travelers and more.

Thanks for following our adventures.

 

The orientation activities were designed to help us enter into a new culture. Helped us to enter into new environments with openness, empathy, understanding, intelligence, and joy.
Our first night I celebrated my birthday! On the second day we were invited into Pastor Angel’s church service. After the service, we were happy to learn that it was Father’s Day in the Dominican Republic so we enjoyed some local treats including a photo booth.
The hotel we stayed at was incredibly beautiful and the meals were excellent and the grounds were great. Here Justin and I were zip lining on the grounds with some early recreation time.
The views into the city, on the grounds of the hotel, in the community where the school is at — all were incredible and impressive views. This is a beautiful part of the world and I captured as best I could.
Part of our service, learning, culture, growing, included visiting Constanza, the city in the area. Rio Grande is just up the mountain on the outskirts or “heights’ of the city. We were able to walk the city streets, get some ice cream, we also had a great lunch.
Menu at the local restaurant. The food we ate was incredible and we needed the fuel for the hard labor in which we were engaged during our time at Rio Grande Cecaini School.
Pastor Angel’s church service. Welcoming and engaging.

 

Mission, Culture & Service Trip to Dominican Republic – 2022

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the LifeTouch Memory Mission trip to the Dominican Republic and I was a representative of AASA, The Superintendent’s Association. I wrote about that set of life-changing experiences on my blog — BLOG POSTS ABOUT TRIP IN 2016 and

Post 2 of 2 – Global Service – Dominican Republic- IASA 2021

And I also wrote about that trip three years later, Link to Anniversary Post

This summer, July 30-August 6, I went on a reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, to Constanza, La Vega, to the Cecaini School in Rio Grande. Through the next few blog  posts, I’m sharing my reflections.

Once major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂

July 30, 2022

Mike and Justin leave the USA and head to the Dominican Republic. Beyond the 4:30am wake up and the 8pm arrival at the hotel at our destination, the “dash” or the “in between” is what really matters. We woke up, we were mentally prepared for the journey — eager with excitement, anxious with anticipation, and uncertain of all the details working out (plane from ORD to MIA from MIA to SDQ, meeting with the group, getting on the bus, making it to the middle of the Dominican Republic, meeting new friends, getting ready to immerse in another culture in a new land, etc.).

The journey, the adventure, the learning, the service, the reflection, the “what now” is what’s really cool about all of this! Justin and I are two of four people from Illinois. There are others from Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, New Hampshire, Oregon, and of course, our hosts from the Dominican Republic.

After we arrived at our hotel, our home base in Constanta, DR for the week, we ate dinner. Food is a huge part of culture, dining together is a nice, subtle way to embrace and immerse in the new and different. Following dinner we engaged in some cool orientation and get to know you activities, we thought, we spoke, we shared, we even jumped around and danced a bit, all in the spirit of living and serving in the present.

Pastor Angel, our host and the local visionary leader who is responsible for so much good in the communities he serves and represents welcomed us. He shared the history of the past decade of work in the communities (school building, community center, government acknowledgement and support, and more). He thanked us for being part of the mission, vision, values, and goals of so many, and the impact and legacy of the service. We’re invited friends and partners. We serve and learn along side our Dominican hosts.

We are here in the service of humanity and the bond of love and service. As an educator and as a father, it’s great to see my two worlds integrate and unite.

Over the past decade, and due to Angel’s hard work, leadership, and vision, he acknowledged the “harvest” of good from all of this fellowship. This is his community; we are invited members, servant leaders from so many groups (including World Servants, the group we’re with on this trip) and we are now part of the DNA of Constanta and the La Vega/Rio Grande region.

Some images of our 4 hour bus ride up from sea level in Santo Domingo to about 4000 feet altitude. More to come this week! Thanks for checking our this set of peak moments for me and Justin.

 

Me and Justin on the airplane at O’Hare in Chicago getting ready for a trip of a lifetime!
On the mission trip, we brought donations of school supplies, painting supplies and tools and first aid kit materials.
We landed in Santo Domingo on the South Coast (Caribbean) and we drove for about 4 hours up the mountains into the center of the beautiful country. I share views and vistas in each of the posts.
We arrived on my birthday and the team surprised me with a cake, a candle, a song and this was just the start of many celebrations and peak moments.
The Dominican Republic is an island nation, it shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. We arrived in Santo Domingo, traveled north and stayed in La Vega, Constanza, at the Hotel Altocerro.
The red “pin” depicts our location with respect to Santo Domingo.
This is the shirt I received in 2016 on the Life Touch Memory Mission I participated in. This trip was a reunion trip of sorts, several of us were alumni of previous trips. One of the families on the trip attended service trips multiple times. They were inspired by an alumna from a prior trip!

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