Dear Principal

Safe handsDear Principal,
I attended the Halloween festivities at school this week and was left afterward with a feeling of sadness because it seemed that the school has lost some of its spirit, maybe a little of its heart. The children were quiet, especially during the classroom parties. The parents and teachers seemed reserved.

It is my impression that you do not respect the fact that our school has long-held traditions. Because it is your first year, you believe that you have a clean slate and will create your own traditions. I completely agree that you should leave your mark on our school. But that will, and should, take a number of years to accomplish. Mrs. Principal, do you know us? Do you know who I am or who my children are? I have had kids in the district for 16 years. My father-in-law was a former superintendent. My mother-in-law a teacher and principal for years. All three of their children were valedictorians! My mother taught for 30 years in our parochial school system. Maybe you should learn our names, even a little more about what we value, before you tell our children that they need to walk with their hands behind their backs and stay quiet in the lunch room. Had there been a problem with lunchroom chaos? With dangerous hands? If so, I had never heard about it.

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says “Rules without Relationship Lead to Rebellion.” I put it there so I would remember that arbitrary rules, rules that don’t allow opinions to be respected and honored, even with my own 6 children, will lead to insurrection. It may be subtle or it may be overt, but damage will be done. Respect for authority will be compromised. Institutional authority is generally obeyed, rarely respected.

You have come into our midst and enacted many new laws. You’ve erased our artwork. You’ve discontinued our weekly school assembly, changed the recess schedule, altered things in the cafeteria. You’ve changed our long-held Halloween traditions. My children, in the past, have never expressed a hint of reticence at my directive to load into the car and head off to school. On Tuesday, a parent ran up to me and grabbed my arm. “Is it true you’re pulling your kids out of the school? My daughter is so upset.” “No,” I replied. “Not true at all. I guess it’s just wishful thinking.” To know that my children are unhappy with their school and are longing for change is upsetting to me. That’s why I’m speaking up.

Mrs. Principal, I know feel you were brought in to accomplish a task. I understand that there was a vocal contingent of parents worried about CSAP scores. But let’s be brutally honest. Our CSAP scores will not improve until we stop accepting so many out-of-district students. I know this. I spent 8 years at another D-12 school. I know that there is no difference in curriculum. I know that there is no difference in teacher quality or parental involvement. There are, however, fewer kids from other districts. Fewer kids from lower socio-economic classes. I am not advocating that we do this. I like the fact that our school has more diversity than many others in the district. I think it enhances my children’s education.

Besides, can you show me a connection between no Halloween masks/no AARFF/no BRAG/no recess/safe hands/quiet lunchrooms/orderly parking and higher test scores? I rather doubt it. Eliminating fun and freedom is not going to solve the “problem.” There is, however, a direct connection between socio-economic status and test scores. Truth needs to be on the table before our CSAP scores will increase.

I understand that every authority figure has her detractors. I have found, in my roles as parent, boss, committee chairman, that respect and openness to tradition and to differences of opinion, make an effective leader–a leader who can and will shape the future and, at the same time, preserve the morale and the joy that should be inherent in every elementary school.

I, and certainly other parents, would be happy to meet with you and discuss how we can work together to preserve what we’ve built over the years and still allow you to accomplish your goals. Please call me if you’d like to set up a time to get together.

Thank you,

Marie Walden

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