The Mayor of Sandy Point

A Three-Part Series (Part III)

The small island nation of St. Christopher and Nevis (St. Kitts) sits 257 miles southeast of Puerto Rico in the leeward island chain of the West Indies.  St. Kitts is shaped like a cricket bat.  Nevis, its sister island to the south, is shaped like a ball.  St. Kitts is 23 miles long and 5 miles wide.  It is a volcanic island with Mt. Liamuiga rising to nearly 3,800 feet at the northern end.  The 60,000 green vervet monkeys on the island outnumber the human population by a few thousand.

Like most of the island nations of the Caribbean, St. Kitts has a majority population of citizens with African heritage.  West African slaves were brought to St. Kitts by the British and forced to provide labor to clear the forests in preparation for the planting of sugar cane fields.  England and France fought for possession of the island during the 17th and 18th century.  St. Kitts gained its independence in 1983.

Hillarie Stevens Belle was born in the capitol city of Basseterre, St. Kitts in 1957.  After completing her primary education, Hillarie went to work in the sugar cane fields outside of Sandy Point at the tender age of 16.  Hillarie may be the hardest working and most resilient person I’ve ever known.  She is also one of the most generous and giving.  Our paths crossed in 1987 when I joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to teach physical education at Sandy Point High School.

After training in Miami and Barbados, I was sent to St. Kitts as a member of a small education team.  We were reading, physical education, and art teachers determined to make a small difference in the world.  Each of us found that we learned more and gained more from our host country than we were able to give.  Living in St. Kitts opened our eyes to the struggles and amazing spirit of the Kittitian people.

I arrived in St. Kitts in July of 1987 and headed to the village of Sandy Point at the northern end of the island.  I found a modest home in a section of the village called “de Ghaut.”  While the homes around me were sturdy and well-kept, many lacked running water and electricity.  As the only white person in the village, I became a novelty to the locals.  I was welcomed and quickly accepted by my neighbors.  My privacy was respected, but people always knew my comings and goings.

Part of our initial Peace Corps training focused on gaining an understanding of the culture and norms of the countries we were assigned to.  Many host countries had long-standing and somewhat erroneous beliefs about Americans.  It was with great energy and enthusiasm that we accepted that our job included breaking through those misconceptions.  I did all I could in my two years in St. Kitts to be a good ambassador.

Shortly after moving to de Ghaut, I met Hillarie.  I call Hillarie the Mayor of Sandy Point because everyone knows her.  By the time I met her, she had been working a variety of jobs, but she was mostly known as a seller.  She would sell food and snacks to the school children.  Her spot was perfectly situated between the Sandy Point Primary School and the high school.  Hillarie was raising her two beautiful children, Lionel and Renee, across the street from my house.  We saw each other every day.

Hillarie was an incredible mom and amazing provider, not just for her family, but for her neighbors as well.  With limited means, Hillarie took care of several people including me.  Hillarie could cook.  For two years, she cooked me Sunday dinner every week.  She made sure I tried every local dish.  I ate breadfruit, plantains, curried goat, salt fish and much more.

My two years in the Peace Corps flew by.  In August of 1989, I left St. Kitts and headed to graduate school at Northern Illinois University.  I left the island telling Hillarie I would stay in touch.  I did, for a while.  St. Kitts never left my heart, but my career, marriage, and children took their rightful priority in the years that followed.

In 2019, thirty years after leaving St. Kitts, I returned with my wife to celebrate our 25th anniversary.  I had no idea if I would see anyone from my time there.  While visiting Sandy Point High School (now renamed Charles Mills Secondary School), I asked the young headmaster if he knew Hillarie.  I wasn’t sure if she was still alive.  He immediately knew who I was talking about.  Of course he did, she IS the Mayor of Sandy Point after all.

With some assistance, I found a local man who promised to take me to Hillarie.  He walked me up the hill to her house.  I stood outside her fence yelling “Hillarie!” like I often did when I lived across the street from her.  There was no response.  I opened her gate and walked to the front door and knocked hard several times.  Hillarie finally answered.  I recognized her face immediately.  It took her a little longer.  When the recognition finally hit her, we hugged and cried for several minutes.

Seeing Hillarie again was overwhelming.  We were both so happy to find each other.  I introduced her to my wife and during our stay on the island we got together for dinner a few times.  Thirty years went by in the blink of an eye.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to re-connect with Hillarie.  I now call her faithfully once a month to check in.  I am committed to never letting her get away from me again.

Epilogue

In the first two parts of this series you met Mrs. Butler and Faith Smith.  Now you’ve met Hillarie.  The three of them have much in common.  They are amazing women, courageous Black women, who faced life head on and overcame significant obstacles along the way.  They also represent three of the most significant relationships I’ve had in my life.  I knew them on a personal level.  I didn’t read about them in a book.  My life is immensely and irrevocably better for having known them.  It is because of them that Black lives matter to me.

Are they the only reason that Black lives matter to me? No, of course not.  I have hundreds, if not thousands of reasons.  I have worked in schools for thirty-three years.  It is obvious that the schooling experience for a large number of African American children is much different than their white peers.  That shouldn’t be.  Black children shouldn’t have to overcome more obstacles to reach the same level of success as their white peers.

We ALL have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  When I say Black Lives Matter, I am affirming that it is MY job, MY responsibility, to make sure that the black and brown faces in my school reach their goals and achieve their dreams.  That means I will have to work differently for them.  I will have to be pragmatic, thoughtful, and vigilant in doing what is best for them.  I CAN do this and WILL do this for them, because like Mrs. Butler, Faith, and Hillarie, their Black lives matter to me.

It took Faith

A Three-Part Series (Part II)

In June of 1903, Black people living in the quiet community of Sykesville, Maryland petitioned the Board of Education to build a school.  The Sykesville Colored School opened in January of 1904.  For 34 years it served as an anchor for the community until it was consolidated with another school for Blacks four miles away.  Ironically, no transportation was provided to the new school causing the community to find creative ways to educate their children.  While the school no longer serves the children in the community, its legacy endures.

If you have the mind to see the old schoolhouse, you can take a left off Main Street in Sykesville onto the narrow and winding Oklahoma Road.  This scenic road runs parallel to the south branch of the Patapsco River and the B & O Railroad line.  It will lead you to Schoolhouse Road where you can find the meticulously restored Colored Schoolhouse.  The Schoolhouse Road community now provides low income housing for seniors.  It is an area that has seen much change over the years.

My family moved into a modest brick rancher near the Schoolhouse Road community in the late 60s.  Our home backed up to Oklahoma Road.  The mostly white population of Sykesville at the time numbered around 1,400.  The small population of African American families living in Sykesville resided near the old school.  The Dorsey family, a well-known African American family, dominated the area and held their annual reunion a few feet from my backyard.  I clearly recall the joy, laughter, and merriment shared by Dorsey family members returning to Oklahoma Road every year.

Faith Smith was born in Westminster, Maryland in 1964 and later moved into a home on Oklahoma Road.  She had several cousins in the Dorsey family.  Faith was a classmate of mine from elementary school through high school.  We graduated together from Liberty High School in 1982.  We were members of the first graduating class.  We were not close friends. We were respectful acquaintances whose paths crossed several times throughout our years of schooling.

Faith was probably the most dignified person I have ever known.  She was quiet and strong and mature beyond her years.  I never heard her utter an unkind word.  She was the kind of student others aspired to be.  She was a strong student and an even more talented musician.  I admired Faith from afar.

In 1981, Faith and I wrote a song together for the ring ceremony held at Liberty High School.  I wrote the lyrics and Faith put the words to music.  We collaborated at the Dorsey Family Center on Oklahoma Road several times to get the song just right.  It was a sweet song recalling the transition from childhood to young adulthood.  I marveled at Faith’s skills in choosing just the right notes and melody for the song.  The song was sung by a classmate at the first-ever Liberty High School ring ceremony.  Faith and I were proud of the fruits of our collaborative effort.

After graduating from high school, Faith earned her bachelor’s degree from Morgan State and a master’s degree in education from McDaniel College.  She also earned a Master of Divinity from Howard University.  She was the music teacher and director of music at St. Luke United Methodist Church for many years.  Her students and families adored her.  Our paths never crossed after graduation from high school and sadly Faith passed away at the far too young age of 49 in 2013.

In the sixties and seventies, if you were a white person living in Sykesville, you knew most of the Black families in town.  Sykesville was built on plantation land owned by the Springfield family.  It has a legacy of slavery and segregation that made growing up in the area a very different experience for people of color.  While Jim Crow and “separate but equal” officially ended the year that Faith Smith was born, I am sure that her family could tell vivid stories of the bigotry and racism they faced.

It took Faith, knowing her and watching her, for me to begin to understand the challenges of being African American in a predominately white town.  She was a strong and spiritual person from a loving family.  Growing up on Oklahoma Road, the legacy of the Colored Schoolhouse is one reason that education was so valued by her family.  I regret never telling Faith how much I learned from her.  If I could, I would tell her how much I admired her.  Faith Smith is the second reason that Black lives matter to me.

Next Up: Part III. The Mayor of Sandy Point

Sources:

The History of Sykesville

Sykesville History

Thank you, Mrs. Butler

A Three-Part Series (Part I)

I was born in Virginia Beach the year that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.  My father was stationed there in the Navy.  After he was discharged, we returned to Maryland where both of my parents grew up. I was raised in rural Carroll County.

When I turned five, I went to kindergarten at the church down the street.  Kindergarten wasn’t mandatory in 1969, but my parents made sure I went anyway.  At age five, I walked to and from school every day by myself.  My mother had two younger ones to care for, so I became independent.  I loved being independent.  I don’t remember my kindergarten teacher’s name and I don’t know how much I learned, but I do remember that it was fun.  I remember trips to the farm, finger-painting, and creating a shadow picture of my head.

Like many baby boomers, I can’t always remember what I did yesterday, last week, or last year.  For some reason, however, I can remember first grade.  I remember Mrs. Butler.  At the age of six, she was the first African American person I remember meeting.  She was also my first grade teacher.

I loved Mrs. Butler and she loved me.  She taught me to read and write.  She taught me how to add and subtract.  Mrs. Butler gave me a foundation that led to a life-long pursuit of learning.  In June of 1971, when school ended, I cried.  I was never a crier, but I cried big tears when first grade came to an end.  I remember kissing Mrs. Butler on the cheek and giving her a long hug.  I felt a little lost.  It was the saddest moment of my seven-year old life.

Fifty years later I still remember Mrs. Butler.  The faces and names of many teachers have faded with the years, but not Mrs. Butler.  Some say it takes three significant relationships with a teacher to ensure that a child will succeed in school.  Mrs. Butler was my first and I can never re-pay that debt.

If it takes three significant relationships for a child to succeed in school and life, how many does it take for them to care for others?  How many significant relationships with people of other races does it take for a person to see the value in all human life?  I think three is a good number.  More would be better, but let’s go with three for now.

Mrs. Butler was my first significant relationship with a Black person.  She was the first non-white person that I loved.  Life is a little simpler when you’re six.  You base how you feel about others on how they make you feel, how they treat you.  Mrs. Butler made me feel good about myself.

I don’t know what challenges Mrs. Butler had teaching in Carroll County in the 60s and 70s, but I am sure that she regularly faced bigotry and racism working in a largely white school district.  That never stopped her from taking care of her students.  What an honor and privilege it was to have her as my first grade teacher.  Mrs. Butler is one reason, the first reason, that Black lives matter to me.

Next up:  Part II.  It Took Faith

Most People Are Good

“I believe if you just go by the nightly news,
your faith in all mankind would be the first thing you lose.”

-Luke Bryan

I recently had the chance to travel to the Midwest and back from my Maryland home.  It was a long “guy” road trip of over 3,200 miles.  We journeyed to Sturgis, South Dakota for their annual biker rally.  The rally itself was an awesome experience, one I’d recommend for anyone who enjoys riding a motorcycle.  This post, however, isn’t about the rally, it’s about the people we met along the way.

Traveling across the United States and meeting people from all walks of life restored my faith in humanity.  As we rode, I kept hearing Luke Bryan’s song, Most People Are Good on the radio.  The song and lyrics resonated with me because they’re true.  Most people ARE good, it just took a trip across the heartland to remind me.

We met people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  We traveled through big towns and small towns.  We met waiters, waitresses, bartenders, tattoo artists, bikers, firefighters, police officers, sales people, hotel staff, and many fellow travelers along the way.  They all shared one thing in common.  They were good people.

I’m not a Pollyanna nor am I a cynic.  I tend to take people as they come.  We, of course, ran into people who were less than polite or respectful, but they were few and far between.  We were shown kindness by strangers, respect just for the sake of respect, and compassion without condition.

I did something on this trip that I don’t always do when I travel.  I asked people questions.  I don’t know why.  I just wanted to hear what they were thinking.  It didn’t take much to get people to open up.  Maybe some have never been asked.  Each had their individual stories, but they all spoke about their aspirations, their struggles, and their families.  They all remain positive and hopeful even though some are faced with significant challenges.

Maybe that’s why this trip was so important.  It got me away from watching the news and reading the paper.  Taking the time to talk with people was surprisingly cathartic.  We all get caught up in the daily grind of our lives.  Learning a little about others can provide a healthy perspective on what really matters.  Skeptical? Take a long road trip, ask a few questions.  People will surprise you.

Luke Bryan- Most People Are Good

https://youtu.be/liqktLC7xR0

Summer Brings the Chance to Re-gain Your Balance

How will you spend your summer?

Summer offers us the chance to “sharpen the saw.”  Stephen Covey encouraged us to seek balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are in balance, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are balanced, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching and leading.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or posting your ideas on Twitter.  See below for a few summer reading ideas.

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ultimate-summer-reading-list-teachers

The best books about educational leadership via Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Books-About-Educational-Leadership/lm/R1TJOMF4RU830V

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers:

http://www.angelamaiers.com/2010/06/top-10-school-leadership-books.html

Are you a resilient educator?

Are you a resilient educator?  How do you respond when things don’t go your way?  This week was challenging for me.  I’ll spare the specifics, but I’m finishing the day wondering where things went wrong this week.  The most alarming part of having a bad day or week is the feeling of losing control.  How can you get that control back?  Here are a few suggestions that might help.  I’m going to try and take my own advice.

Put Your Day or Week in Context

Everyone has their moments.  Was this day or week an anomaly?  Unless you’ve started a new pattern of behavior, next week will be better.  It has to be.

Keep Your Sense of Humor

If you can still laugh at yourself, you’ll be okay.  Humor doesn’t fix everything, but it signals the start of turning your bad mood around.

Re-center Yourself.

Take some time to reflect on what went wrong and why, but don’t get stuck there.  Make a conscious decision to get back on track.  Think of a few strategies that you can use next week to steady the ship.

Face the Music

If your week went wrong due to relationship issues, decide if you need to directly address someone.  Nothing keeps your stomach turning more than unresolved conflict.  Pick the right moment and have a heart-to-heart with those who are connected to your stress.

Get Some Me Time

Do something for yourself.  Go shopping, go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, or just go somewhere!  Time alone helps clear your thinking.  If you’re comfortable being alone with your thoughts you will always have a way to cope with stress.

Get Back on the Horse

Start the new week believing in a fresh start.  Avoidance is a poor strategy for anyone who wants to have a better day.  Hold your head up, smile, and say something positive to the first few people you see.  You’d be surprised how quickly you can build the momentum you need to have a great week!

Educators and school leaders can and should model resilience.  If we want students to respond appropriately to stress, we should show them how.  We don’t have to discuss every detail of our personal lives, but sharing anecdotes that illustrate the times we have overcome stress can help students develop their own strategies.  It’s okay to show your humanity.  Your students will be all the better for it.

Advice from A Great PLN!

The topic for #mdeschat last night was looking toward the New Year.  While the challenges of teaching and leading are many, it was reassuring to hear the hope and energy expressed by many in last night’s chat.  The last question was “fill-in-the-blank” and the answers are a good example of the power of positive thinking.

“2015 will be a great year because…

@WalterReap

…I will continue to avoid “the box” and create an environment where creativity is valued.”

@BarbaraGruener

…I am surrounded by passionate educators who uplift, encourage, empathize, understand, care, support, hope, heal and love.”

@stony12270

…we have amazing resources to utilize as educators! Twitter networking has no limits!”

@teacherwithtuba

…that beats the alternative.”

@justin_heid

…more and more educators are stepping out of their comfort zones for the benefit of student learning and growth.”

@krisyvonne

…I will listen to understand.”

@JonHarper70bd

…each day my own PLN grows and I get to learn from brilliant people who have much to teach me.”

@TiawanaG

…I will continue to build strong, long-lasting relationships through social media.”

@Renglish71

…I have family by my side, a career that’s invigorating, and a network of colleagues on Twitter to support me!”

@ppw78

…I have a balance between work and home and a child graduating high school.”

@Mrs_Abi_VR

…I’m lucky enough to have another year in the world’s greatest profession!”

@SchooLeader

…I have decided to make it so.”

Such inspiration from people who spend every day supporting teachers and students!  Perhaps Brandon Kiser’s (@SchooLeader) last statement says it best, 2015 will be great if we only decide to make it so!  That spirit of thinking reminds us of our potential.  Is it possible to make significant change and progress just because we decide to?  I sure hope so.

Reflections by a first-year assistant principal

Elizabeth Manning is a first-year assistant principal at Richard Henry Lee Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland. She is hosting #mdeschat this Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.  Her topic for the night is reflecting on the calendar year.  Elizabeth took the time out of her busy schedule for a little reflecting of her own.  Her responses to the questions below provide insight to anyone interested in pursuing a career in educational administration.

Tell us about yourself.

I moved to Maryland 9 years ago when I was hired to teach at Tyler Heights Elementary.  Since then, I worked for the district Title I Office and the Elementary Network Support Team.  My current position, however, is one that I have been ambitiously seeking for a while, and I am grateful that I can call Richard Henry Lee Elementary home.  I am thankful to be back in a school setting interacting with teachers and students on a daily basis.

As a new assistant principal, what has been your biggest challenge this year?

My biggest challenge was learning how to do things the Richard Henry Lee way.  Each school has a culture that makes them unique, forming relationships with staff members early on has helped me become a quick learner as to how business is done here.  At the beginning of the school year I would say to people, “I don’t know, what I don’t know.”  As I get to know the students, the staff, and parents, it is increasingly evident that this school is student-centered with a focus on literacy and STEAM initiatives, but not to the abandonment of creating lifelong learners and responsible community members.

What has surprised you?

It always surprises me how fast both the day, and school year, is flying by.  I often feel like I’m out at morning bus duty, take a walk through the school and next thing you know, I look at my watch and its time for lunch duty!  It doesn’t seem possible that we are already well into December and will soon be writing 2015 to date our papers.  Finding the time to fit everything into our fast-paced days is something I’m working on improving.

How have relationships changed from your transition as a teacher to administrator?

As a teacher, it is easier to find a “buddy” who is going through the same things you are experiencing, within your grade level or at your school.  As an assistant principal, there is no one else with your job in your building.  I’ve had many roles as a “teacher leader,” but the dynamic shifts when the role of “evaluator” is added to your responsibilities.  Conversations are constantly about “What is best for the students?” as opposed to what is fair and equal to my grade level, my classroom, or my current role.  I am thankful to have a principal who is a great mentor and has offered suggestions on how to make the transition from, “teacher leader” to “student-growth leader.”

What advice would you give an aspiring administrator?

If I could tell an aspiring administrator anything, it would be “do your homework, don’t be complacent.” If you are prepping for the SLLA (School Leaders Licensure Assessment), then study, read books and take practice tests.  If you are prepping for an interview, read books and talk to assistant principals, principals, regional assistant superintendents (or principal supervisors) to get feedback or advice.  Then, when you are finally hired as a new assistant principal, keep pushing the envelope to try new things, read the latest research, journal about your experiences (or blog), communicate frequently with your principal and take the time to reflect!  The key is to prepare to work hard.

How do you think the second half of the school year will be different than the first?

My challenge for the first half of the year was learning the “what’s, how’s, and who’s” of the building.  Now that I’m familiar with school procedures and student names, the second half of the year will be a big push for continuous development of the action steps on the school improvement plan.  With the new PARCC assessment on the horizon, it will be important to keep our academic focus narrow so we can achieve our goals during non-testing times.  The entire school year is a time for growing our students into the kind, caring, capable learners that will be the responsible community members of the future.

Thanks, Elizabeth, your reflection skills will make you an excellent principal!

Thanks PLN!

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect.  I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two great children.  I remind myself not to take that for granted.  No matter what challenges life may bring, your family is always there for you.

On a professional level, I am thankful for many of the great educators and colleagues I have met through Twitter.  Thanks to…

@Jonharper70bd for becoming an inspiring writer/blogger whose posts are elegant and poignant.

@RunnerBliss @KNESconnoisseur and @jaimer9578 for motivating me to become a better runner.

@WalterReap @lindamcToth and @rachelamstutz for making #mdeschat a successful professional development tool.

@psikeffer @MrCsajko @janercooper @Ms_Stover @missreed  and @Grade3withMissB for always adding great insight to the #mdeschat conversation.

@JessMuonio and @LTaylorELA for sending out tweets that make me laugh.

@buttercup01em and @MrsToal05 for using Twitter to connect with our school community.

@RHLeeESAACPS teachers who have embraced Twitter to connect with parents.

@PrincipalDerby @RegAMF42 and @MrMoxley for setting such a great example for how social media can enhance communication with parents and colleagues and also for their green school efforts and advocacy.

@nlattimore for being such an inspiring leader and Ravens fan!

and, finally…

to @ppw78 for her partnership and unwavering support!

I have certainly missed many others who make me a better person and educator.  Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to help me grow.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving, see you on Twitter!

Why Should Educators Blog?

I began blogging a year ago today. This is my 70th post in a calendar year. I was never the type to keep a journal. When I was eleven years old I was given a diary for Christmas from my mother. I dutifully wrote in that diary for six weeks, then my entries trailed off to nothing. Maybe it’s a guy thing. We’re just not a reflective gender. Nevertheless, I started writing Common Sense School Leadership on October 7, 2013.

For me, Twitter was the “gateway” from micro-blogging to full blown blogging. The connections and conversations I had with educators across the globe motivated me to better understand the issues that connect us all. Twitter helped me find my voice. It is a great venue for trying out ideas with an audience that is generally supportive and interested in a meaningful dialogue.

There are thousands of blogs out there. Mine is nothing special. So, why bother? Why spend the time writing about issues in education? Here are three reasons you might want to consider blogging:

1. To grow

Blogging makes you think deeply about your views and beliefs. Who knows how many people will read your blog? While we may hope that others find our musings at least minimally interesting, our growth comes through the writing process. The more you write about topics that you are passionate about, the more you understand yourself.

2. To connect with others

The opportunities to connect with colleagues are often limited by our schedules. How often do you have time to discuss important educational issues with others? Blogging (and reading others’ blogs) expands your learning circle. When you share your blog with others, you meet people from all over the world. The only thing you have to do is dedicate your time, energy, and willingness to the process.

3. To learn

The concept of professional learning is being redefined. It’s no longer about attending an “event.” Blogging cuts out the middle man. It gives you direct access to innovative thinkers and doers. You no longer have to wait for someone’s book to come out or for a great speaker to present at your favorite annual conference. Many blogs focus on the practical aspects of our profession. This means that you can get tips, suggestions, and ideas in real time, when you need them- no waiting necessary.

So, what’s keeping you from blogging? Not enough time? That’s the one thing no one can give you more of. Blogging can be done any time of the day. You just have to decide it’s worth it. You have value. You have great ideas. We need to hear them. Give it a try!