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School excellence is nurtured by hard work, humanity

Yesterday I peeled a Subway sticker and won a cookie! This follows closely on the heels of my win of a pound of butter at firemen's Bingo in 1988. Outside those two "gimme's", I've not seen dumb luck pay off as often as hard work. Author Joe Girard said it this way, "The elevator to success is out of order. You'll have to use the step at a time."

Last week we celebrated the success of co-curricular programs. We celebrated excellence earned through hard work. A person might ask how we dared celebrate our school's "Challenge Cup". It is a dangerous thing for a public school to celebrate excellence these days. In times of pinched funding, excellence is circumspect. Some may suspect excellence is extraordinarily expensive; excellence may be seen as wasteful. In fact, the opposite is true. For no more money that it costs to run an average or below average co-curricular program, Perham - Dent has excellence. And when we get excellence, we know that it is harvested from hard work and humility, not from arrogance or extravagance.

How does excellence happen consistently in our school district whether in co-curricular or academics? 70% of our high school students are in co-curricular programs. But to earn the opportunity to participate, students must be eligible in the academic world. There exists a strong feedback loop from the academic world to the activities world. Excellence as the new basic holds true for the academic world first; the co-curricular world follows suit. In turn, the better we are on the co-curricular side, the better we become on the academic side.

It does indeed take courage to celebrate excellence in these financial times. We have made sharp cuts into activities programs. Over the last five years, we have cut coaches, assistants, bussing, activities director's time, and we have raised the fees to participate and to be a spectator. It now costs more out of pocket for our students and families to be part of co-curricular activities than it has ever in the history of the district. Yet excellence is still demanded as "basic".

It is no secret that the cornerstone of our academic and co-curricular success is c­ort and stubbornly high expectations it holds for its public school. And we are delivering on that expectation, mostly in quiet ways, but every once in a while, you just need to celebrate! So the community again stepped forward. The free will donation paid for the food; preparation was donated. "Bomb the Day", our students' garage band, performed for free. Staff volunteered to man (and woman) the tents where old uniforms and outdated trophies were sold. Those that are re-usable were kept to be recycled with a new nameplate in a year or two. Area businesses donated tents and inflatables. Even the "School of Champions" banner was a done at a discount by an area business. And for all that, we shout a huge "thank you" to our community.

In reflecting on the "Challenge Cup", I want to stress again we accept it knowing Bill Gate's advice is true, that "Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose." Thus, when we talk "Challenge Cup" and say, "School of Champions," we are not referring to the elusive numbers on any scoreboard or in any speech round; we mean a winning character, and we mean hard work more than dumb luck.

In Living a Life that Matters, Harold S. Kushner writes, "I believe that ordinary people joining forces can do things that heroes acting alone can't do. ... Can one ordinary person really change things? Can we, in our anonymity, affect history? Rarely can we, by what we do alone, move mountains and make a difference. But by being good people and doing good things, we can, as members of a community dedicated to goodness, change the world."

Thus, the community's investment in its children, both in terms of dollars and expectations, cannot be undersold. It must be celebrated because it holds the power to change the world, for the better. And investments like that have little to do with dumb luck and everything to do with hard work.

Tamara Uselman,

Perham-Dent School Superintendent