I live a weird sort of double life. And it’s not as glamorous as that might sound. My kids go to school in my district, meaning that I’m a parent, an employee, and the supervisor of my kids’ principals. That’s a fine enough line to walk, but I’m fortunate that it’s the rare occasion that I have to think about how to balance those roles.
What’s given me pause recently doesn’t have a thing to do with my kids. Instead I’ve had to figure out when I’m willing to give up the relative anonymity that’s come with my move from high school principal to the central office. The high school job brought a much higher level of community visibility. Kids saw me every day in the halls, visiting their classrooms, speaking to them at assemblies, or attending sporting events. Parents came to visit about academic concerns or other school business. I lived my day-to-day life knowing that I might hear, “Aren’t you Mrs. M from All-American High” at any given time.
I can’t say I miss that part of the job. Now, it’s only people who really know me who know what my role is in the district. Most of my business with the community takes place through phone conversations, and it’s only staff members and people who I know personally who know what I do for the district.
But my privacy comes with the price of finding myself in some interesting situations from time to time. The most recent happened at my first book club meeting Monday night. At one point the conversation turned to Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a favorite of mine and one which has me thinking a lot more about what I feed my family.
It was then that one of the women made some disparaging, general comments about school lunches and how a friend told her how horrible they were–launching the dilemma I now tend to find myself in. Do I “out” myself and tell her I work for AAPS? Do I just keep quiet? Do I share my opinions as a parent but not as an employee?
Sometimes in this situations, I choose to just move on. But, since I’ll likely be seeing this woman on a monthly basis, and she’s likely to eventually learn what I do for a living, I decided I might as well jump on in.
“Um, I work for AAPS. We’ve done a lot over the last few years to improve the kinds of foods we offer kids. Do you know if your friend has really looked into what’s being served?”
“Oh, yes, and it’s awful. There should never be any kind of packaged food on the menu. It should all be freshly-prepared and from local sources.”
Obviously, that’s a high standard to meet. We’re pretty pleased with the fact that we eliminated fryers from our district and that we serve fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal. We no longer serve anything but milk or 100% juice beverages on the line, and, much to my disappointment, there are no more Little Debbie snack cakes or the like available. We do have contracts with area farmers during the early and late months of school to provide local produce to us–something that’s not possible during the winter months. When, yes, we rely on packaged items, just as we do for many of our main course foods.
I shared all that with her. And attempted not to sound defensive about the whole issue. From her response I’m pretty sure I failed both at that attempt and in my efforts to clear AAPS’ name.
What I’ve tried to figure out since that conversation is why the whole thing bothered me so much. Because, obviously, it’s not just that AAPS’ food services were misjudged. I’ve realized that what continues to make me crazy at times is much of the public’s blanket disdain for the public schools and what they do.
When I analyze it, I understand intellectually that much of the public opinion comes from the unrelenting stream of negative media about the “state of our schools.” Ironically, the research shows that most people aren’t unhappy about the performance of their own public schools. They rate those well. It’s those “other” public schools that aren’t doing a good job.
I’m not naive. I understand that our country isn’t doing the job it should be doing for students in urban areas, particularly our minority students. Reforms are needed–which is why I’m not one of those public school people who’s afraid of innovations like charter schools. I want every single child in this country to have the opportunity to get the kind of education that I work hard every day to make sure that the kids in my district receive.
Because what kids here receive is a great education. And that’s a point I’ll continue to be willing to step out and make. Even if it causes a little personal discomfort.