Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Right men, right time, right place

Sometimes it seems like we would be best served to take care in what we ask for. The retirement incentives built into the Iowa public schools system could be such an instance.

The incentives were put there for a reason - to assist people in retiring a bit earlier than might otherwise happen when they feel their career have run their course, to help make way for new blood in classrooms and administration with new ideas, and let's face it, to lighten up salary loads.

It can become a situation where it just doesn't pay for a longtime education leader to continue in their field.

Seldom has the impact been felt as strongly as in Storm Lake. On the heels of losing its former superintendent to retirement,

this season the district loses both its high school principal and middle school principal.

We do not subscribe to the philosophy that at a given age, a person suddenly stops being effective and no longer has gifts to give. We hope that all of our education leaders are leaving because the time is right for them, and not at all because of the circumstances of our polices. It might be wise, however, as we are talking incentives, to consider ways to provide incentives to keep those veteran educators who are interested and able involved in some way in our schools.

I will miss principals Ron Bryan and Mike Hanna personally, and I'm sure the community will miss them too. Neither made a lot of noise - they were nor controversial or political. But quietly, they and our other education leaders have turned what could be a crippling situation for public schools into tremendous opportunities, and for that, we should all be grateful.

Hanna faced the sudden ethnic diversification and growth of the high school, with all the language, attitude and assimilation issues that go with it. It could have easily been a divisive if not violent situation.

Mike Hanna did not let that be so. Through sheer force of character, an almost superhumanly upbeat attitude and perhaps the most forcefully gentle nature I know, Hanna helped us all to realize that ethnic diversity is a learning opportunity. While the media used Storm Lake as a whipping boy for its anti-diversity stereotyping and uninformed bashing, Hanna was pioneering positive things like Diversity Day and the new Charter School designed to make college possible for people of all means.

He has been the ultimate cheerleader for Storm Lake High School through his career, more energetic that any fresh-out-of-college secondary-ed pup, seldom missing an event his students were taking part in, and usually joining in the fun himself.

His greatest contribution may have been his most subtle one. When a kid passed Hanna in the hall, he always seemed happy to greet them by name and to ask something about their life. He didn't talk down to them, he talked to them. Rich or poor, A-student or struggling student, whatever skin color or native language, he cared about them all on a personal level.

And for a lot of kids who might well have slipped through cracks somewhere else, well, they neeed that. They just shined when Mr. Hanna had a word of recognition for them.

Bryan too, faced challenging times - a diverse socioeconomic stew of young people at the critical stage in growing up, keeping age groups separate and yet engaged, encouraging newcomers to try and join arts and extra-curriculars, struggling under the sometimes unfair measures of the No Child Left Behind testing.

He too approached his task quietly, a strong force but also an ever-encouraging one for a staff that has faced its challenges and made them into opportunities for innovation and rededication to helping all students achieve.

It has been under his watch that Storm Lake has smoothly made the transition from a junior high mentality to the true meaning of a middle schooling philosophy. Technology, fine arts, after-school programming, reading programs have flourished.

Any community that has seen the rapid and dramatic social change that Storm Lake has experienced would be sorely challenged to adapt.

Storm Lake schools are not just facing the challenges, but excelling as they make us stonger, more flexible, more imaginative.

I've enjoyed seeing Mike Hanna, Ron Bryan and their staffs, along with our exceptional elementary principals and their faculties, and our stong local school board, create an example for other communities to follow as diversification and change arrives.

Hanna and Bryan would each prefer to be quiet about their achivements - they always prefer to laud their staffs and play down their own contributions - but they deserve great congratulations for what they have done here.

People outside used to put Storm Lake down - now they come here to try to figure out how we have achieved all that the community has achieved.

Our schools are now more reflective of the ever-shrinking world into which our children will grow. And people from around the country and quite a few nations beyond still come here and see shining opportunity for their children in our classrooms.

Leadership ability knows no age limit. Thank you, Ron Bryan and Mike Hanna, for everything.