Upon Returning from a Leadership Convention in Hawaii, the Superintendent Addresses the School Board of Carlson County, Pennsylvania
For Patty, and Patty, and Dan
Directors and members of the community attending in person or via Zoom, good evening. I know many of you are eager to hear my comments regarding my recent trip over Thanksgiving break about which so many have said so much on social media, but there are other matters I should tend to first.
Our covid protocols continue under policy 8.2, enacted in August in compliance with state guidance and federal regulation. The elementary school has 8 students on quarantine, with 12 out in middle school and 26 in the high school. On speculation that the high school’s inflated figures are attributable to a house party held by Mr. Janoso after our Quiz Bowl team’s victory at states, I have no comment. Sergeant Rossi, our school safety officer, is not at liberty to confirm police were called to Mr. Janoso’s home early Sunday morning.
In addition to the quiz bowl accomplishment, our band placed 2nd of 7 teams with their show, “America Then, America Now, America Forever,” and the football team finished with a winning record for the first time this century by beating our rivals, the St. Francis of Assisi Assassins--in double overtime, thanks in part to multiple ejections for unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct on the part of the Assassins. I understand the head referee who was medivacked to Holy Ghost hospital following the rather animated celebration is recovering just fine, and our solicitor has informed me we face limited legal exposure.
Current fundraising efforts include the drama club raffling off Broadway tickets, the Language Lovers selling Pop-it-Yourself popcorn, and the Gay/Straight/Other/Undetermined/ Exploring Student alliance offering diversity-themed acceptance donuts. I’m not sure what that means but I’m sure they’re delicious.
The last of my opening remarks regards personnel. It is appropriate for me to note the unexpected retirement of Mrs. Jill Kaminski from the library, where she has worked for 43 years, leaving Mack from maintenance as our longest running employee. I regret that Mack’s last name is not a part of this report. I’m quite certain he has a last name, but my staff was unable to locate it. Apparently even his paychecks are made out to simply “Mack.”
As is readily apparent by these various updates, our school is functioning properly within all expected parameters. In all likelihood, some teachers are valiantly sharing crucial insight while others are dreading each day, hoping no one notices their constant state of barely suppressed anxiety. Students are memorizing historical facts and unraveling the mysteries of calculus while struggling to find their identity and take their place in a constantly shifting complex social hierarchy that makes the Indian caste system look like a tea party. Thanks to Patty with the PTO, parents now have my private cell phone number and feel unencumbered by convention or decorum to the point where I get random texts like “Did you know Senora Margoles has died her hair blue?” “why can’t we have gluten free grilled cheese like they do in Springville?” or “Do you deny the existence of Satan as a malevolent force bent on influencing students through the music curriculum?” (I’m sorry for how I responded to that last one, Mrs. O’ Flanagan, but it was late at night and I didn’t know it was you. Honestly, it’s unlike me to employ vulgarities.)
Basically folks, all is pretty much as it should be. To be frank, we’re a lot like most other districts in the nation. We’re special, sure, but no more special than any place else. I’m not sure what’s behind the general consensus that the sky is falling. But I am aware of the most recent tipping point.
Contrary to what you’d think if you only read Facebook, the world did not stop spinning because I went to Hawaii over Thanksgiving break. So if you’ll put down your torches and pitchforks for a few minutes, I’ll try to rationally explain why my attendance at the “Leader of the Pack Leadership Summit” was a sound financial investment for the district. (To answer some of the questions I’ve seen on Twitter, yes, Waikiki is beautiful this time of year. No, I don’t surf, and yes, the district did pay for this trip. Our business manager has all my receipts, and before you even ask, I’m not being reimbursed for any of the alcohol.).
Jack Wolf, founder of Leader of the Pack, is a recognized global expert in field of advanced management strategies. His book “Way of the Wolf: Leading Lambs to the Slaughter” was on the NYT bestseller list for 7 months last year, and he’s been a trusted advisor to three presidential administrations. His six-step method for harnessing your inner predator has been used in 65 countries and implemented by over half of the Fortune 500 Companies. Had I passed up the chance to learn directly from him--at a discounted rate I might add--it could be argued I was being negligent in my duties. Did I need to attend the 36-hole golf outing? Was the 4-hour Happy Hour mandatory? Such questions may be up for debate, but I can tell you this: it’s hard to overestimate the value of social networking.
So what do I have to show for it? How do I justify the expense? I’m glad you asked, and I’m pleased to share the result of my advanced leadership training. No, not a certificate suitable for framing, Mr. Merkowski, though I did find that comment quite humorous on Facebook. (By the way, did you know your son sits alone at lunch and is picked last for gym? Our art teacher told me he’s a paste-eater.). No, what I’m proud to unveil is my five-part Apex Predator Personalized Leadership Plan. This was developed in direct consultation with Jack Wolf. (And sure, maybe that’s code for we scratched it out together on a bar napkin at 3 a.m. but input is input.)
Predator Vision: Dominate the views of weaker minds and exert my will.
Predator Cornerstone Concept: Radical Transparency. You want to know how the sausage gets made, for real? From this day forward, all school records, emails, correspondences, meetings, and classroom activities will be posted and available for public consumption. So if it’s true that Mrs. Watson is regularly using class time to update her World History students on her pending divorce, we’ll know it. If your kid is watching porn on his phone in study hall, we’ll all get to witness what they’re into. And if it’s true that two school board directors were canoodling under the bleachers at homecoming, we’ll post any spotty phone camera footage we can gather.
Predator Cornerstone Concept: Collaborate with Conviction. Should we constantly survey stakeholders to determine their feelings on everything from amending gender pronouns in the school fight song to planting azaleas vs. rhododendrons by the new playground equipment? Hell no. I was hired to lead, and that means taking charge. I’m the superintendent, not the lame intendent. So sure, I’ll ask for input, but mostly to anticipate reaction to the inevitable right course of action I’ve already ascertained by virtue of my training and experience. It’s important to consult others, but 90% of these calls are no brainers if I’m being honest.
I can tell by the reaction of those of you here in the hall that you fail to see the wisdom in my Predator Plan, which is not unexpected. I’m not going to waste the last 3 steps with you. And that’s fine, really okay. I can see in your faces that you’ve come for my head tonight, and I’m at peace with that. Because on the back nine of that last round of golf, I gave Jack Wolf a tip on getting out of a bunker that paid off, and he and I struck up a conversation about my willingness to join his team. To cut to the chase, I got a text just before our meeting started, and you’re looking at the new MidAtlantic Regional Representative for Leader of the Pack. I hereby tender my resignation, effectively immediately at the conclusion of these prepared remarks.
Since I don’t want to leave you in the lurch, and I’ve become familiar with your command structure, or lack thereof, I thought it appropriate to jot out a few ideas for how decisions will get made as you try to hire an interim to replace me. Who knows, maybe the mob is right, and we don’t actually need a superintendent at all?
Method One: The Coin Toss. Statistically balanced and free from any concerns of political bias, this is an easy way to determine matters that only have two possible outcomes. Should the kids wear masks? Heads yes, tails no.
Method Two: Magic Eight Ball. Some issues are more complex and demand a degree of nuance. For a few bucks at the Five Below, you could have something as reliable as any fortune teller or oracle. Oddly enough, when I looked up the 20 possible responses the Magic 8 Ball offers, ranging from “Without a doubt” to “You may rely on it” and “Better not tell you now” to “My sources say no,” I was reminded of the texts I receive from the board directors. As you trust in them, trust in the Magic Eight Ball. Other options that draw on the occult include astronomy, tarot cards, the fake gypsy in the strip mall off route 12, even a Ouija board. All have the potential to help steer you into a future that empowers each student to use technology and become a productive global citizen, which is all we want anyway.
Method Three: If none of these approaches helps you resolve disputes before you manage to replace me, I offer a final solution that may seem initially radical but which I find an innovative take on a traditionally maligned method that invoked divine judgment: Trial by Combat.
All insurmountable debates will be remanded to the care of our head wrestling coach, Mr. Manus, who will devise a unique competitive form that celebrates violence and provides an unequivocal result. Two freshmen girls have a spat about who started a nasty comment marathon on Snap Chat? Best of three falls on the wrestling mat. That brainchild Susan Quimby wants to complain about a 94 that Mrs. Bridgmount gave on her last English paper? Death by dodgeball. Two teachers each claiming the same parking spot? Lock them in the supply closet with switch blades. Get some perspective people. The world is full of real problems. But as of now, this district is no longer one of mine. Thanks for the memories and good luck with the remainder of your agenda.
Neil Connelly: Before returning to his home state of Pennsylvania, where he now teaches writing at Shippensburg University, Neil Connelly directed the MFA in Creative Writing at McNeese State. He’s been fortunate enough to find homes for a couple dozen short stories (Southeast Review, Yalobusha Review, Southern Indiana Review, Midway Journal) and 8 books (Simon & Schuster, LSU Press, Scholastic). www.neilconnelly.com