Priceless Gifts

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Darcie Birkett, MSBO President, CFO, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, Ottawa Area ISD

birkettFa-la-la-la-la… The holiday season is in full swing! This means we are scrambling to accomplish our work responsibilities as we add many holiday duties and events to our schedules. We run year-end payroll, adjust the budget, establish negotiation parameters, revise curriculums to meet new federal standards, complete numerous required reports and update our Boards. We trim the tree, purchase and wrap gifts, plan the Christmas dinner menu, and come together with family and friends. It’s a joyful time of year!

And while it is also a busy and stressful time of year it’s a time to thank, and to be thankful. As I reflect on the holidays, and consider the presents I will purchase, I find myself also thinking about gifts that cannot be purchased, but when given, can make a real difference in the lives of the children we serve.

Gifts take many forms - they don’t always come in beautiful packages with sparkling paper and bows. I consider this country’s public education system to be one of the greatest gifts that I have received, and in turn have given. Let’s look at the history of this “civic experiment.” One of the paramount challenges facing America was uniting a nation and creating a “collective” culture. Public education became the cement that many thought would bring this young country together. Horace Mann, a 19th century reformer, known as “the father of American public education,” very clearly stated his goal for public education, “It is a free school system. It knows no distinction of rich and poor…it throws open its doors and spreads the table of its bounty for all the children of the state…Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the equalizer of the conditions of men, the great balance wheel of the social machinery.”

I think we can safely say that the “great experiment” is working. The core function of a school and the role it plays in children’s lives has remained somewhat the same. It is about reading, writing, and arithmetic. Yet the role of schools and school personnel has expanded to meet other societal needs. The schools of the 21st Century are far different from the schools of the 19th Century. It takes people like you to make the great civic experiment work. So in the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, pause for a moment and feel good about the gifts you give to children every day in our public schools. Your gifts take many forms, but all are wrapped in dedication, perseverance, creativity and hard work. And each is wrapped by caring hands.

Recently, at MSBO’s Leadership Conference, a member spoke about greeting students as they got off the bus on the first day of school. He asked a child if she had eaten breakfast. The answer was, “no.” He said that she also seemed nervous because it was the first day of school and she didn’t know where her classroom was located. He took her hand and walked her to the cafeteria to grab something to eat and then took her to her class. A small gift that made a huge difference to that child!

Look around at the good things happening for kids in your schools and know that your gift is considerable, and appreciated by so many! Thank-you to the school business staff working diligently every day to create and maintain a financial vision that supports the public school mission. No small task in these challenging economic times!

Thanks to the district operations staff that works to integrate the school’s energy program into curriculum, helping students to gain a greater awareness of, and appreciation for, earth’s precious yet finite natural resources. What a gift you’ve given to the environment, and to future generations as this learning experience changes student perspective and behavior!

A technology employee who brings a San Diego Zoo webcast or a Chinese distance learning event into the classroom gives the “the world” to a student who might never have been outside the boundaries of her own neighborhood. The task may be considered small and routine to the employee, but in the hands of a child this gift is precious.

And can we place a price-tag on the gift given by the food service worker who shows up early each morning to make sure a hungry student starts his day with a healthy breakfast, and then stays to serve lunch to a student who may not have the opportunity to eat again until tomorrow when she returns to school? The gifts given by our food service staff ensure that our students are ready to learn when they walk into their classrooms.

And what about the gift of a friendly salutation to a student who may be struggling with a difficult family situation? A bus driver who makes eye contact as he smiles and shouts “good morning Sam!” may utter the only kind words spoken to Sam today. In the eyes of the child, this gift is priceless.

The holidays have become one of the busiest times of year in our professional and personal lives. Take a moment to think of the gifts you bring to your school district. I’m sure you will come up with many! Acknowledge the gifts your colleagues contribute. I know that one of my gifts is the opportunity to work and have friendships with the many dedicated members of MSBO.

Season’s Greetings, everyone!