Friday Focus – 04-24-2020

Dear Team,

Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is going to be alright. (More on that later).

First as a student, then a history teacher, and later a school administrator, I’ve been given a lot of books throughout my life. Books on leadership, books about presidents and generals and how they dealt with obstacles and challenges, books on pedagogy, education policy, equity and social justice. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an avid reader. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Epps and my librarian Mrs. Youngblood helped me find that passion. By the way, let’s thank our librarians, they RRock not only during National Library Week, April 19 – 25, but throughout the entire year.

Many of my books sit on my shelves at home or in the office, some of them are signed on the inside cover by the giver or the author, some have been shared with others, all of them have been read and treasured. But there is one book that holds a special place apart from the others. Anyone who has been in my office has seen it, not lined up with the others, but displayed, cover first, on the top shelf. It was a gift I received about 15 years ago from Dr. Paul Cruz. Now, he’s the Superintendent of Austin ISD, but back then Paul and I were both Area Superintendents here in Round Rock. Paul, a former elementary school teacher, was captivated by this story. The book had come out just a couple of years earlier and he gave it to me just as I was leaving Round Rock to be Deputy Superintendent in Dallas ISD. It was unlike any other book I’d ever received as a gift. It was a children’s book by Peter H. Reynolds called The Dot.

I’ll admit, it sat on my shelf for a couple of years. I wasn’t sure what to think of a gift of a children’s book. But then one day — I’m still not sure why — I picked it up and began to read. The story is about a stubborn little girl, Vashti, who is sure she is not an artist, even as her teacher encourages her to try. Her teacher tells her: “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”

Each time I’m asked to read to an elementary class, this is the book I pick up and tuck under my arm. It’s a beautiful story of discovering the hidden creativity within each of us and the power of a teacher who truly listens, understands and inspires.

As we all are braving this new frontier we find ourselves in, I feel like we all can sympathize with Vashti who insisted she was no artist. Change is difficult and scary and being out of our traditional environment can make the most creative and adventurous of all of us feel that we’re not up to the task.

But these past few weeks I have seen heroic work in Round Rock ISD. We may not know where this path will lead us, but we are all willing to make our mark and see where it takes us. Courage is not defined as the absence of fear. Courage is moving forward — doing the right thing — despite fear. That is what our teachers, administrators and support staff are doing now. It’s what our students, our parents, our healthcare workers are doing every day.

I know this journey is difficult, and part of that difficulty is the physical separation we are experiencing. It’s hard for us and it’s hard for our students. Beginning next week, we hope to begin bridging that gap. Until now, we’ve limited contact between teachers and students to previously approved methods, primarily email. But with Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement last Friday that schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, we are moving into the next phase of our at-home learning platform, which will include video chat check-ins with students. (Teachers will be receiving more information with guidance later today.)

We want our teachers to be able to talk face-to-face, even if that face is over a computer screen, to their students. Both our teachers and students need that connection, just to check in, to assure each other that all is well and, if not, to provide encouragement, guidance and answers. We took our time to reach this point to ensure we have the right platform, policies and guidance in place to ensure the best experience for all — teachers and students. We also wanted to make sure we’d done all we could to provide computers and Internet access to all our students, so there is no one missing out, no one left behind.

When we made the decision on March 16 that we would not be returning from Spring Break, we had no idea what the future would hold. We still don’t. But we will continue to be flexible, to evolve, to innovate, and no matter what comes, we will find a way to be there for our students.

Whether it’s helping them with reading, math or science, encouraging them to be the best version of themselves, inspiring them to unleash their creativity, or honoring them as they transition from students to graduates. No matter the format or venue, we will continue to drive students to make their mark and see where it takes them. Like Vashti, each of us has the potential to leave our mark by inspiring others to greatness in unprecedented times.

I find myself whistling Bob Marley’s song, Three Little Birds often these past few weeks and finding comfort in these words:

Rise up this mornin’
Smiled with the risin’ sun
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Sayin’, this is my message to you
Singin’ don’t worry ‘bout a thing
Cause every little thing gonna be alright

Thank you for all you do. My challenge to you this weekend, try not to worry about a thing because, I too, have got a feeling that everything is going to be alright. And remember, we are all in this together and the world will be better soon because of each of you! And like Vashti, leave your mark for the better.

Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.

Respectfully,

Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools