Friday Focus – 01-17-2020

Dear Team,

I love libraries. I love babies more (more on that later)!

But back to libraries…I love the smell, the quiet, the seclusion. I love the feel of a book in my hand, the texture of the printed page, and the promise of more knowledge than I could possibly absorb tucked away in the rows and rows of books (I must admit, I love technology but never enough to get comfortable with a screen instead of a hard covered book).

My love for libraries, perhaps surprisingly, developed because I began elementary school not speaking or understanding much English. I wanted to learn as quickly as I could, but my pronunciation wasn’t always correct. Because of that, I was often quiet in the classroom early on, afraid to say something wrong and expose myself to laughter and teasing from my classmates. I’d say things like “share” instead of “chair”; “chew” instead of “shoe”; “chip” instead of “ship” (you get my point)!

I found that the written word was more forgiving than the spoken word. I found comfort in reading silently. My comprehension grew and, in my imagination, it didn’t matter how I pronounced things because as I read in silence it sounded right to me!

I found refuge in the John H. Reagan Elementary library and Mrs. Stooksbury the librarian. I lived the adventures of Beezus and Ramona and Henry Huggins, dove into the series of Encyclopedia Brown, a boy detective so smart he earned the nickname “Encyclopedia” and spent hours searching through the big red Webster’s Dictionary in our little library when I came across new or unfamiliar terms.

So, by third grade, while I had far from perfect pronunciation, I was a darn good speller! So good, that Mrs. Watson, my beloved third-grade teacher encouraged me to enter the class spelling bee. Even though I had my reservations, Mrs. Watson (who I thought was some kind of a beautiful, mystical being because of her silver-blue hair) believed in me and I didn’t want to let her down. Not only did I end up winning my class spelling bee, I went on to win the competition for the entire third grade at Reagan Elementary. When Mrs. Watson pinned on my blue ribbon she asked me if I knew what it meant. “It means you are so smart, Steve, and you can be whatever you want to be.” She didn’t end there with her praise, she also said, “Great spellers make great writers!” Kids tend to believe what adults say to them. Be sure your words lift them up whenever possible. Mrs. Watson’s words gave me wings!

I carried that with me through school, through college, through grad school and my doctoral program at The University of Texas at Austin. You never know how your words may affect a child — for good or ill — and set them on a trajectory for life. Mrs. Watson’s words inspired me to accomplish things I’d never imagined possible.

So last week, when I received an email from Shelley Lincoln, a fifth-grade teacher at Forest Creek, that started “I am sure this is a huge long shot but I’m going to try!!!” inviting me to give the welcome for spellers and parents at the school’s Scripps Spelling Bee on Tuesday evening, I jumped at the chance. Thanks, Mrs. Lincoln!

I did more than say a few words. I stayed on the edge of my seat until the very end. To me, this competition was every bit as exciting as LSU versus Clemson or any NFL playoff game this weekend! Why? Because I could see myself in every child. All of them were champions in my eyes. They’re learning more than to be good spellers. They’re learning to communicate, gaining confidence to stand in front of a crowd, and practicing what it means to be both a humble winner and a graceful loser.

I challenge all of you to think about how your encouragement and actions may help a child try something new and how that endeavor may ultimately affect them positively for the rest of their lives. How could Mrs. Watson know what that blue ribbon would mean to me?

To me, that’s a reminder that we are all significant. Yesterday afternoon, at 4:36 p.m. I became something new – I am a grandfather. To little baby Luna Claire, I am and will be significant. My son Joshua, joined his Dad as a Father. I pray I modeled that role well enough for him to be the most amazing Dad ever for Luna. Like it or not, oftentimes our children model their parents. Most of us downplay our significance in this world, but we all touch lives. I hope you don’t minimize your role in the lives of others.

Yesterday, I recognized our January RRock Star — Quentin Branch. Quentin is a bus driver for Round Rock ISD, but he is so much more. (You can see a video about him here.) He knows that he can make sure a child’s day gets off to a great start. He volunteers on his own time at our schools. He encourages students to do their best. Quentin is significant in countless eyes. We all are. As one of my favorite musicians, Carlos Santana, once said:

“There is no greater reward than working from your heart, and making a difference in the world.”

Welcome to the World, baby Luna! On to Day 2! Looking forward to holding you for the first time this evening in St. Louis, MO!

Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.


Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools