On our school board, let’s reach for common ground

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After reading the recent articles related to the Chatham County School Board, I remembered attending a board meeting last year when several speakers in opposition to the board’s approach to COVID precautions literally turned their backs on the board and ignored the prescribed time limit for public input. It was sad to see the national divisiveness and disrespect here in Chatham.

I learned about “windigo” when my wife read “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. As this Native American author explains, “Windigo is the name for that within us which cares more for its own survival than for anything else.”

Raised in the Christian faith, I’ve looked to chapter 22, verses 37 39 of Matthew as a guidepost for life: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The COVID-19 pandemic sometimes laid bare the fragility of a loving community. I had hoped to hear at the school board meeting praises for those working tirelessly to adapt to COVID’s educational challenges; instead, I heard self-centered complaints about steps taken for the common good. Fortunately, our current school board members followed a reasonable course to protect students, staff, families and the larger community while also promoting academic achievement. Recently the News + Record paper reported that 18 of our 20 schools in Chatham County met or exceeded anticipated academic growth.

In contemplating the best ways to support the goals of public education, one thing is crystal clear. We cannot afford to frame the conversation in terms of “who comes first” or “what’s best for me.”

The leadership shown by board Chair Gary Leonard allows us to be optimistic: “The goal of the board is to help the students as much as possible … I like to work with people and find middle ground in any problems we encounter to try and find solutions to those problems.”

As we move forward to assure an equitable education for ALL, we must work to reject our windigo tendencies and instead follow the Great Commandment. We must endorse and support a “students-first” approach. Preparing students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers will ensure a viable future for our community, state, nation and world.

Dennis W. Streets


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