This week, school districts across America were faced with a decision regarding the airing of President Obama’s September 8th message to American students. Frankly, as a parent of two Kyrene students, as President of the Kyrene Governing Board, and as an American, I was a bit taken by surprise by the controversy that the President’s scheduled remarks created even in the polarized political environment in which we currently live.
Nevertheless, with regard to the President’s remarks and all Kyrene related matters, it is the job of the School Board and Administration to prudently consider the views of our constituents and to come to sound decisions that reflect the views and best interests of our students, families and employees.
My purpose today is not to defend the decision that we in Kyrene reached regarding the President’s address. The wisdom of that decision will be judged within each Kyrene home and family and in each of our 25 unique school communities. My purpose today is to convey the process that we employed to reach our decision.
On Thursday morning a group of about 15 District leaders met in superintendent David Schauer’s office to discuss this matter. The group was notable in its political diversity and included principals, District Office leaders, teacher representatives, myself and board vice president Michelle Hirsch. At the beginning of the meeting it was abundantly clear to me that our opinions of the president and of his speech varied greatly and that those opinions were influencing our positions on the matter.
Early on, I was concerned that our meeting would prove more destructive than productive. Then, something miraculous happened, something that we rarely hear or read about in the political and societal environment in which we live. We actually listened to one another. We engaged one another. We respected each other as well intended human beings with something positive to contribute to the discussion. About an hour later, we emerged from that meeting, all feeling good about our decision and about how we had grown as a team committed to student learning that will surely face far more challenging educational issues in the future.
None of us in Kyrene are so self-absorbed as to believe that our decision about the President’s speech compares to the great challenges we face as a state and a nation. We did not solve the health care debate. We did not balance the Arizona State Budget. Nonetheless, our political leaders can take a lesson from a teachable moment in our school district and from many such moments in school districts across America where respect, friendship and leadership still exist and where a willingness to collaborate and engage with those of differing political views is a virtue and not a character flaw.
For all of us who have entrusted you to govern, I urge our state and national elected officials to recall great statesmen and stateswomen who have come before them and to return to some common sense and collaborative approaches to solving the great challenges of our day.
Ross Robb is currently the President of the Kyrene Governing Board. However the opinions expressed in this letter are Ross Robb’s and not those of the Kyrene School District District and/or the Kyrene Governing Board.