As I begin the process of sorting through the past nine years worth of work in the superintendent’s office, preparing to step out of this role and move on to the next phase in my life, I came across some prepared remarks that I had delivered to our staff shortly after the Board of Education asked me to assume this responsibility.
It was the afternoon of Tuesday, November 25, 2008 and I had only been in the position a total of two weeks. It was a difficult time for the district given a sudden change in leadership and a growing distrust. I felt it was necessary to speak to the entire staff and the Board of Education agreed to close school early that Tuesday so we could meet before heading off to the Thanksgiving Break. My goal was to lay a foundation for a vision for the future while beginning to repair relationships and trust in the present.
Here are my words from that day which now seems so long ago. Because I think they not only represent the past nine years, but the years yet to come, I thought it fitting to share them with the entire community:
Good afternoon, and thank you all for stopping out here, especially given the wintery conditions that dropped in on us today. We do not get together as a district team often enough and I’m sure as you looked around the room, there were many faces you did not recognize.
Mr. Marshall Norden — Lori’s father, a member of the school board for many years, and a Class of 1941 alumnus — wrote a sequel to Mr. Lloyd Fry’s earlier history of the Godfrey-Lee district. In his publication, covering the years from 1968-88, he wrote, “These are exciting times for all the people living in the Godfrey-Lee school district, and it is the sincere hope of this writer, even though no longer a resident, that the people continue their pride in their schools, and work faithfully to assist the schools in the great task of providing enjoyable, quality education to their children, who, in such a few short years, will be called upon to assume the leadership roles in their community.”
He went on to add, “Be assured, the leadership of your schools is in good hands. The administration, teachers, and all staff personnel at every level, have at heart the best interests of your children and are dedicated to giving to them, as much as possible, of their expertise, knowledge, and experience.”
I’m sure many of you would agree, twenty years later, these are still exciting times. Godfrey-Lee has a long history of service that has produced some of the finest and most successful graduates in this area. While the economy and the culture of this area has changed over the 15 decades this district has existed, several things haven’t: Our students still want the chance to be successful at whatever they try, their parents continue to believe in their kids and the importance of a good education, and our faculty, staff, and administration is one of the finest teams of educators found anywhere in Michigan.
You can go through any of our school buildings and offices and you will see great things happening every day. The ECC lays claim to one of the most outstanding early childhood programs in the county, if not statewide. Our focus on literacy is steadfast, and as a consequence, we have dedicated reading teachers at the ECC, Godfrey and Lee Middle School, along with a dedicated, daily reading time in our high school. This year, we added a Freshman Focus program to tackle the difficult task of transitioning students from middle school to high school. Our media centers in all of our traditional schools have been re-staffed and re-focused, to the point that they are often the busiest place in school, a learning environment where students want to go. We continue to align programs at Vision Quest with Lee to ensure all Godfrey-Lee high school students are held to the same high standards, while receiving the supports they need to succeed. Our new TEAM 21 programs at the elementary and middle schools have opened up a whole new level of academic support and enrichment experiences for Godfrey-Lee kids. And, just this past summer we began revolutionizing our summer programs at the elementary level to provide our kids with a rigorous but relevant, hands-on learning experience.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg! In every school building and in every classroom, we can see the results of hard work, professionalism, and dedication, aligning curriculum, improving instruction, analyzing assessment data, and challenging our students to succeed. And standing behind us is our Board of Education who believes in what we do, that reading and writing are important, that our students need opportunities to learn, and they need the necessary supports to accomplish this. In my six and ½ years at Godfrey-Lee, our school board has never once said to me, “No, we’re sorry, but you can’t have that program, or you can’t hire that new teacher, or you can’t discipline that child.” They have always responded to our needs and they deserve the same respect and admiration from us, as we have received from them.
So what does the future hold for Godfrey-Lee Public Schools – our historic District Number 7?
• I believe that while the economy in Michigan is bleak, the future of our school district is whatever we want it to be, and while I’m here, let me be perfectly clear: Regardless of what local and state politicians think, I will not willingly subjugate our programs, our values, and the futures of our students to any other district, school board, or superintendent.
• Having said that, we all must feel the sense of urgency in developing an educational program that is second to none. I believe that each and every one of our students can achieve high standards, if we just find the way to give them sufficient time and support. And, I believe that if we give our students the right learning experiences, that their effort will affect their learning outcomes just as much as intellectual ability.
• Good school systems are not created by policy or fiat. It takes leadership and teamwork. I believe that if our students are to be successful, our teachers must continue to step up and be the designers and leaders of the critical learning experiences, that will engage students in the right work necessary to achieve high standards. This will require ongoing, collaborative opportunities that take advantage of our collective talent and professional experience to develop 21st Century learning for our students.
• I believe that we can take advantage of our common purpose and gifted staff to create an educational environment that will take our district to unprecedented heights. And, I believe that for Godfrey-Lee, the sky is the limit when it comes to innovation that benefits our students.
What will it take to be successful? It requires that each of us re-commit ourselves every day to:
• Giving our students the best we can possibly give through rigorous and relevant instruction that is wrapped around positive relationships between students and students, as well as students and staff.
• Opening our eyes to new ways of teaching and learning that exploit new technologies, provide opportunities for students to collaborate and solve problems, and prepare our kids for the unsettling and unseen aspects of a world economy.
• Refusing to be mired in the American tradition of an antiquated K-12 education system that no longer serves the best interests of our students, instead looking at the acquisition of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills as the true indicator of readiness for the next level.
• Coming together as a true collaborative team that values accountability, resisting the temptation to shut our office and classroom doors to new ideas, or upholding the parochial interests of our respective buildings. Instead, let us strive together to build a partnership that is based on the bedrock foundation of honest and open communications.
• And finally, accepting the fact that our professional and support staff associations are full-fledged partners that not only represent the interests of their members, but most importantly the best interests of this district and our students. And let me assure you now, that I will work hand-in-hand, openly and above board, with the leaders of both groups as we strive together to take this district forward.
Yes, Mr. Norden, “These are exciting times for the people living [and working] in the Godfrey-Lee school district.”
Thank you for your support over the past couple of weeks, and the opportunity to serve as your superintendent. I certainly look forward with excitement and anticipation to working alongside you in a new spirit of honesty, openness, collaboration and teamwork.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving break and remember, “Always Rebels!”
David Britten, Interim Superintendent
November 25, 2008