State of the School

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Thank you for being here this evening. It has been a great year for Ridgeview, and we seem to have come to the end so quickly that it hardly seems real. For those of us who have students who will be graduating this year, it is difficult to see them go. It is almost painful to imagine our hallways without them here. This sentiment is part of what gets to the heart of the state of our school.

Many years ago parents pulled together minimal resources with huge amounts of initiative, they fought a hard-scrabble battle for their existence, and they made huge sacrifices on behalf of their own children so that they would have access to a world-class education. What they realized later on, what kept them going across the span of many years, was that they had not only sacrificed for their children, but for hundreds of children they had never met. These were not children from one ethnicity, or class, or religion, or background – they were children from the upper rungs to the bottom rungs, they were children who drove expensive cars and children without a lunch; they were brilliant children who excelled at anything and children who struggled with everything. They had the full gamut and they began with a belief that all of these children deserved what they were working to afford for their own.

They hired brilliant and passionate teachers who put in insane hours preparing lessons and making the most of facilities that were basic at best. They were, in Kim Miller’s words, willing to stand out in a sandbox with a stick and teach so long as the students showed up to learn. These pioneers moved furniture for their first teacher training in August, and taught out of trailers, and took phone calls behind the dumpster, and organized carpools to get kids to school, and brought canned food for those kids without lunches. For many, they volunteered countless hours before they ever took a paycheck. Those first teachers did not just sacrifice the luxuries of a new car or a big house, but extravagancies like orange juice, Internet service, and a proper wardrobe. When the newly hired principal arrived, they had to admit that they did not yet have a building. They also had to admit that they did not fully understand why they were classical. The principal would have to lay that groundwork, hire the teachers that could bring it to life – in short, do a great deal with a very little.

The parents showed up to volunteer in droves. They volunteered to build a playground, hand out fliers, guard the crosswalk, donate equipment for a laboratory, copy papers, listen to children read their first stories, change light bulbs, sew costumes for plays and musicals and madrigals, peel potatoes, and decorate for dances, and split up kissing couples, and drive kids back and forth to sporting events and music lessons. They did everything, and the school slowly crept to life.

When we sit in a room that we do not like perfectly, when we are frustrated by this thing or that, when personalities clash or we fail to get the teacher we had hoped for, we should pause to consider that how far we have come is also a measurement of the state of our school. The faces have changed over the years, but we still have remarkable volunteers, remarkable teachers, remarkable students, and remarkable staff members. We are told incredible things from those who visit our school from all across the country, and while this feels good, we should not forget how humble our beginnings were.

When I began at Ridgeview, I thought I would remain for only a single year. I was off to law school, to finish a PhD, to return to politics. When asked why I was here making substantially less than if I had stayed in politics, I answered because this had at least the prospect of being a noble venture. It was not an abstract concept, however, that persuaded me to stay – it was the students first and then the faculty. There were so many great students who listened intently, who were respectful and curious and polite and bright that I could not imagine returning to the humdrum work of anything else. The teachers were collegial and cared about ideas and were generous with their time and their books. In seven years I’ve learned from them more than what I took away from university. I have never worked so hard in any other job, never been more exhausted or happier to see the month of June as I have these last seven years, and yet I would not trade these colleagues for any other colleagues, and despite having seen schools from Maryland to Oregon and Minnesota to Florida, I would not have any students but ours. This place, this school, is a delightful curiosity that I am remarkably grateful for.

Its best days lie ahead of it so long as each generation of stewards inherits their responsibilities with a respect for the work of their predecessors and a promise to improve upon it without altering the soul of it. As long as we do not fall prey to gossip and the rumor mill, avarice and malice, as long as we seek opportunities to pull together, and direct our every effort to ensure that the first and last consideration each day is about what will make a Ridgeview education the best education for every student, we cannot but be successful.

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