A Little Common Sense, Please

>    One of the troubling reports to come out of the shooting at an inner-city Cleveland Tech School yesterday that killed 2 students and wounded 2 teachers, is the allegation that students tried repeatedly to meet with the Principal over concerns around the assailants behavior and ongoing threats but she apparently could not find the time to actually conduct those meetings.
    It seems unlikely and odd that someone in the position of being responsible for the education and welfare of a group of school students would have their priorities so misaligned… and yet I’ve run into the same lack of common sense in an affluent, suburban white school district.
    We live in Cherry Hill, New Jersey with some of the highest real estate taxes in the state to fund what is seen as an outstanding school district, with Presidential Blue Ribbon recognition to show for it. We also have a history of alcohol, drug and suicide problems among our school age children. So, when we moved here 5 years ago and there were two teenage suicides in the first 3 years, I volunteered my experience to the Drug and Suicide Prevention Task Force.
    My experience was not my law degree nor the fact that we had a school age daughter enrolled in the district. It was that I had tried to commit suicide at age 23. 
    My volunteering efforts were welcomed and I was invited to sit on the Task Force. I attended two meetings and quickly recognized the familiar symptoms of political correctness and bureaucratic dysfunction. After the second meeting, there was yet another student suicide and the Task Force “mobilized” a community-wide grief and counseling event at one of the High Schools. After an assembly event where the Superintendent was to speak (his daughter had attempted suicide a few years prior) we were to break out into smaller groups in separate rooms and talk more personally with the students.
    A politically connected and affluent male member of the community with a personl history of clinical depression, who is active in both the school district and a local synagogue, was going to speak with the children in each room. He had done this every time there had previously been a suicide. I offered to speak to the individual groups as well, explaining that as a female who survived an attempted suicide and gone on to college, law school, a successful career and family, my story might resonate better with the female student population.
    My offer was ignored then outright rejected.
    The priorities of the “powers that be” are, usually, maintaining the powers that be. In so doing, those in positions of power often spend too much time making sure they are fortifying their position rather than adequately performing the duties of their position.
    There’s a great quote from the movie “American President” when Michael Douglas, playing the role of President of the United States, arrives at a press conference unannounced and taking the microphone says, “I’ve been so busy trying to keep my job, I forgot to do my job.”
    If the allegation against the Principal in Cleveland turns out to be true, then she will have to “own” that quote as well as the memory of 3 dead and two injured people which were, perhaps, the result of her misplaced priorities. On my homefront, I left the Task Force shortly thereafter and slipped quietly into the night where our school district is concerned.

    That is, until last night.

    Last night was “Back To School Night” at Cherry Hill East High School where our daughter is a freshman. We walked through her roster, spending 10 minutes with each of her teachers. When we got to Health and PhysEd, her teacher told us that he has 50 students in his class because the Board and others of “the powers that be” decided to underfund the staffing of that department by 3-4 teachers. He also had his classroom size cut in half (at the same time the amount of students was increased) to provide more space for the World Civilizations and English classes
    Here’s the rub. It’s in the Health class that stress, suicide, alcohol, sexual relations and drugs are taught. So, common sense was  cast to the wind as those who make the decisions that matter either willfully, or blindly, failed to focus on what matters.
    As I told the Assistant Principal last night, “I am all for academics. I went to college, have a law degree and am a writer. But if a person does not have the emotional stability to handle the stresses of the world in which they live, the best college and best paying job in the world will not prevent an inevitable disaster.”
    I am hopeful that the Principal in Cleveland, although belatedly, is today reassessing her priorities and will live her life differently as a result of the tragedy.
    I am less optimistic about our School District based upon past performance. However, I am about to slip not so quietly back out of the night I went so quietly into when I left the Task Force.
    Perhaps if they did not find me of value then, I can be of help now by assisting them in re-prioritizing their values.

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