Super Pickles (and Super Educators) in Bangor, Michigan
Why does it need to get bad before it gets better? I’m tired of this cliché. Imagine if this were the battle cry for your child’s school. I was at a small town deli, in Bangor, MI after one of my edutainment talks, eating a local pickle and speaking with Superintendent Paquett and Principal Tremblay. We were chatting about their own pickle, the school they run. See if this sounds familiar: They are underfunded, understaffed and overtaxed. A couple of years ago they had some mediocre test results and had to figure out how to increase scores with fewer resources and less support. They have managed to get the scores up since then, but it's a work in progress.
I’ve been on a steady diet of school opening chats lately ranging from Texas, Arizona, and most recently, the home of Viking pride and Freestone Pickles — both in abundance, in a charming but struggling small town in Bangor, Michigan. BTW, that’s Bangor, pronounced "Bang-Or" not "Banger" I quickly learned, and for good reasons I suppose.
I look forward to these lunches because this is where I play investigative reporter and eavesdrop and pry out realities from talented boots-on-the-ground practitioners faced with what sound like some impossible challenges. These lunches are good therapy and a reality check that help me combat a media that reduces the problem to one-size-fits-all and a political system that prefers to demagogue rather than demonstrating how to fix problems they're elected to solve. So yes, this school thing is a pickle and one in which everyone and his uncle has an opinion and the uncle may not have graduated high school ... so here’s my opinion.
I have immense respect for folks like Superman Paquett, and his sidekick Robin — I mean Principal Tremblay. But so as not to bear down on too many lunch details, let me reflect feelings rather than bullet points.
— They seemed determined with practical ideas, braced to accept and deal with gaps and hiccups they needed to tackle quickly. — They were willing to seek new funding locally and go after it in out-of-the-box ways, and looked forward to the challenge of doing so. — They seemed to have an open relationship with their teachers and wanted them to succeed despite a state that refuses to provide much support other than “figure it out or else!” Sorry, back to the positive. — They seemed to understand a school’s real test is to bring forward all students, all minds, and most important among them are those children who are challenged in some way or stumble from less support. They were not shy about asking the more fortunate to help lead. They clearly viewed their student body as a team, not of rivals but as travelers seeking an uncertain destination but willing to charge ahead into the unknown. Yeah, that’s what it felt like. That’s my opinion. That’s why I wanted to thank them for their service — even though that still feels small and cliché.
One other grand cliché is the idea that administrators are often burnt-out mediocre-to-poor teachers looking for a pay raise. I’m sure they're out there and if you are, please quit and run for school board president. (Sorry, again with the negative ... )
But look — in my opinion all I’ve eaten lunch with this past month are some very impressive leaders, thinkers and doers. And the only thing they’d all like to raise are hopes, scores, and funds. Every administrator spoke the same language, they all yearned for more funding — not for iPads but to reward talented teachers who are now at a tipping point or more aptly put, a flipping point. Did you know that the average teacher will only last 3-5 years before hanging up a new shingle on LinkedIn? They do. Did you know that much like commercial airline pilots who used to dream of a family co-pilot, teachers are telling their children to consider a life in pharmacy to help with the anti-depressants they can barely afford? They know this, too.
So, my Freestone pickle was great, really great, but not as great as all the talented administrators I’ve had lunch with these past few months. I suppose if things need to get worse I’m glad we have talented folks like Superintendant Paquett and Principal Tremblay hanging tough and trying to figure out how to make things better. That’s not a cliché, that’s a fact!