Opinion: School board’s recognition leaves little to whine aboutWhen the great Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus, was busily classifying and organizing all the known species in the plant and animal kingdoms, his task became controversial for any number of reasons. One was the issue of humankind’s inclusion in the classification system in the first place. Another was the name that would be given to the human species.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
When the great Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus, was busily classifying and organizing all the known species in the plant and animal kingdoms, his task became controversial for any number of reasons. One was the issue of humankind’s inclusion in the classification system in the first place. Another was the name that would be given to the human species.
In the binomial naming system Linnaeus used, we became Homo sapiens, or “wise man.” This led to both serious and frivolous objections. Scientists and others argued that human beings were better described by their opposable thumb, their relative hairlessness (compared to other primates), or their ensoulment, rather than their wisdom. Humorists pointed to numerous historical examples which disputed even the common sense, much less the “wisdom,” of human beings.
The argument, on some level, continues even today. And I think if I had to join it I would probably go with something more like Homo queribundus, “whining man.” I realize this is a bit cynical but, in truth, if I had to point to one characteristic other than intelligence that sometimes typifies humankind most prevalently, it could very well be our constant ability to find something about which to complain. If it snows, we complain about the treacherous driving conditions; if it doesn’t, we bemoan the fact that it won’t be a white Christmas. If we were truly an objective species at all, we would have to notice that this particular point in history is healthier, wealthier, and wiser than essentially any other since our forebears checked out of Eden. Yet, if anything, the shrill chorus of laments is louder than ever.
As I say this, I exclude neither myself nor my colleagues. In the world of the superintendent, just now, there is much to bewail — financial forecasts of doom from Pierre, ridiculous federal mandates, various outbreaks of cultural decay that make our jobs more difficult — but over the long term, in fact, none of these are the most common cause of complaint among school superintendents.
In truth, in my nonscientific polling, the most familiar grievance is the same as it is for most working stiffs, “the boss.” In our case, the boss is, of course, the school board, that hydra that snaps at you from every direction (since it sports five or seven or 11 heads instead of one), comes to board service with axes to grind, thinks it understands how to run schools because its members happened to attend one when they were younger, asks you to pursue mutually exclusive goals at the same time, and leaves, it too often seems, at about the time they have arrived at a full understanding of what it takes to make a school district hit on all cylinders.
I don’t like to think of myself as a whiner but, alas, I must admit I have on occasion mentally lodged complaints about a board member or two in my career.
I have whined.
Today I must take the pledge not to do so again. The Associated School Boards of South Dakota announced that the Mitchell school board was accorded the School Board Award of Excellence. Wayne Lueders, the executive director of the ASBSD, said this about our school board: “They are a shining example of the hard work and commitment that South Dakota school boards display every day.”
In other words, the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, the group that sets the bar high for school boards, the group that provides training for school boards, the group that advises school boards, and the group that lobbies for school boards here in South Dakota has looked at the Mitchell school board and noted in them an example to be emulated. In truth, that conclusion was one I, and many others in our community, had already arrived at.
This board, as well as many of the board members who have served this district over the last decade plus, have indeed been that shining example. They have kept focused on student academic achievement, planned in the long-term so that necessary facility improvements could be accomplished without new taxes, balanced the needs of students with the financial wherewithal of the district and its taxpayers, dealt with the sometimes difficult and occasionally downright nasty aspects of employee relations and student discipline with the utmost of professionalism, set challenging but attainable goals for the district and its superintendent, created a vision for a sound and improved educational future for Mitchell schools and students, and still managed to do so in a pleasant and welcoming environment for students, employees and constituents. This is a school board that knows its business.
Which, alas, leaves very little room for whining from the superintendent of schools. Time, I suppose, to look for a new hobby.