My work as a school board member over the last five and one-half years has given me the opportunity to work alongside smart and thoughtful colleagues and educators. One of the things I have come to understand through my work is that often the biggest opportunities for growth come from uncomfortable changes that evoke fear in and pushback from our communities. Recently, we have heard from some community members that as a unified board we should not forge ahead with a proposed preK-12 model but should instead stick with a status quo model. I would offer a different way of thinking about this.
Great things rarely come from maintaining the status quo. The status quo is safe and reliable but does not allow for much in the way of innovation and progress. Recently, I faced a decision as a parent as to whether my husband and I would allow our teenage sons to go on a 250-mile hike through the High Sierras on their own. The safe and easy response would have been, “Absolutely not.” And yet, after much deliberation (and a PowerPoint presentation from them), we let them go. It was not smooth sailing. There were moments of fear that we had done the wrong thing, such as when my 16-year-old fell and broke his nose and had to be evaluated at a ranger station. But the growth and change they both experienced with the completion of their hike were amazing and difficult to describe or quantify.
‘EMBRACE THE POSSIBILITY’
I would challenge our communities to try to put aside our fear of change and to embrace the possibility that changes in our school configuration could offer incredible opportunities for our students. The merger of our middle schools could mean that our students develop friendships that span six years instead of four. They could transition to high school without worrying about new social dynamics. If we moved our middle-schoolers to Crossett Brook Middle School, we would also have the potential of building a true 21st-century high school building with facilities that match the skill of our educators. And our middle-schoolers could have the opportunity to learn with a wider group of peers and develop richer extracurricular opportunities.
As adults, we work hard to protect our children from things that could distress or upset them, sometimes too hard. Our children will grow because of experiences that challenge them. Change and movement away from the status quo promotes growth in children and adolescents. We have skilled administrators and educators who can help to guide our children through any changes in our schools. I believe in them and their ability to transform these changes into opportunities for our children. I hope that as a board and community, we can open our minds and hearts to the value of change and teach our children that they are capable of amazing things even and especially when challenged.
Thomsen is a Waterbury representative on the Harwood Unified Union School District Board.