Quaker Valley: A Great Year Ends with Crash, Thuds

Carlin_Kids_Read

 

Quaker Valley High School held their commencement a week ago this past Monday. The district’s got a lot to celebrate, and a lot to be proud of. I could spend a lot of words highlighting many of the student and teacher achievements over the last school year, but the district has a full-time person who does that very well.

Among the things that impressed me this year were the ranking by US News and World Report, the refurbishing of the police car for the School Resource Officer, and the coverage the district received as part of a story on schools addressing the needs of transgender students.

Fortunately, the chemical spill at the High School this past Thursday wasn’t something that will have a long-term effect on the school or its operations. Unfortunately, other recent issues threaten to overshadow many of the above accomplishments in the eyes of students, parents, teachers, and the rest of the taxpaying public.

 

QV Yearbook Joker

A long time before there were Internet memes, there were quotations. As vague and incomplete as both can often be, quotations can also be taken out of context or otherwise manipulated to serve the intended purpose or point of view of the ‘quoter’.

So it was with how Quaker Valley attracted national media attention in late May.

The local print media seemed to go in two different directions with their coverage. The Tribune-Review / Sewickley Herald provided a straightforward report of the incident, bolstered by interviews with both a student who selected one of the quotes to accompany his picture, and another who expressed dismay as a result.

The Trib then followed with an editorial chastising those involved in oversight for being “asleep at the switch“, while calling into question the High School history curriculum.

The Post-Gazette coverage from May 28 explored how deep concerns about the incident appeared to run with the parent and student population. The P-G reporter seemed to add a dash of snark to his reporting as well:

 (Communications Director Angela) Yingling was unable (to) say how these “offensive quotes” — as the school district’s email described them — made it past the editing process, nor could she say how the district will monitor the yearbook in the future.

It should be noted that the instructions given to seniors by yearbook staff, in the form of a letter found on the district website, offered little advance guidance relative to content:

Please submit one quote to be placed next to your senior picture in the yearbook. This quote must come from a respectable source (book, authoritative website, etc.) and cannot be your own nor your peers (absolutely no profanity). You also MUST cite the author.

No explicit prohibitions were made as to the author of a particular quotation, although I’m wondering what is meant here by “respectable“. The definition implies for me an attempt to steer students away from controversy, which is really not surprising.

Despite one student’s description of his actions as a joke, there are deeper lessons to be learned here, especially in this particular election year. Can we learn something from the seemingly harmless proclamations of those who were, and are, considered enemies of human rights, freedom, and dignity? How do the lessons of history translate to the choices we are being asked to make in a nation, and a world, increasingly connected, divided, and volatile – all at the same time?

My primary focus remains freedom of expression, within limits – and I don’t think those limits were exceeded in such a way as to sully QV’s reputation – at least not in a way they should be overly concerned about.

Similar sentiments were echoed by numerous QV alumni on social media pages such as Quaker Valley High School Friends and Memories of Growing Up in Sewickley.  A few of the comments started with the words “Much ado about nothing” – one alumnus went as far as to suggest that QV administration, through their response, exacerbated and perhaps invited the extra media attention.

I can’t speak for the current state of the history curriculum, but I do recall the history teachers during my time at QVHS. One of the interesting annual projects put together by the late Mr. Charles Hinds and his students was a display of covers and information about those designated as Time Magazine Man (now Person) of the Year.

The magazine’s criteria for this recognition is “a person, group, idea or object that ‘for better or for worse (emphasis mine)…has done the most to influence the events of the year'”.

Adolf Hitler received this recognition in 1938, Josef Stalin in 1939 and 1942.

I wonder what Mr. Hinds might have thought had he been approached by school administrators about excluding the above years from his display.

The response of the district to this year’s “joke”, along with whatever plans are afoot to reduce the possibility of a re-occurrence in future years, deserve careful scrutiny by those students (and those who advocate for them) whose history may be sanitized for the sake of reputation.

One person’s “reasonable” may be another’s revisionist.

 

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

        – H.L. Mencken

A pair of Herald reports detailed at least one family’s experience with head lice at Osborne Elementary, and presented evidence of all manner of misunderstandings – between parents and school leadership, between administration and the school board, and between those charged with monitoring student health and everyone else who perceives lice as a “serious” health issue.

The first report, dated May 24, appeared to originate from the assertions of a parent as relayed through school board member Gianni Floro. The district’s initial response to the possible scope of the problem was to state that it “doesn’t keep data ‘because lice is not something the district is required to report’ to any agency or department. 

Data that isn’t required for reporting purposes isn’t kept? Really? I wonder if that could be considered a form of plausible deniability.

For the story, QV Assistant Superintendent Andrew Surloff stated that the school environment is not the only one where head lice may be transmitted between children – an assertion dismissed by Mr. Floro. It was interesting/surprising/refreshing to see a board member and a district administrator disagree in a public forum.

Where Mr. Floro got his numbers to dispute Mr. Surloff’s assertion could be a matter for further discussion. Maybe that also explains why he took this issue public, considering the district’s initial response to his claims. I can’t believe that he didn’t try to address this first internally – the debate with Mr. Surloff on the pages of the Herald is uncharacteristic of the rarefied atmosphere that normally defines how QV operates.

This all apparently led to the district’s attempt at clarification and damage control, published in the Herald of June 2. Other QV administrators, including Superintendent Heidi Ondek, provided approximate numbers of recent lice cases and detailed the status of preventative efforts. These consist mostly of making parental notification, and providing information on seeking treatment that school personnel are not presently allowed to distribute or administer.

The story also attempted to establish from multiple sources the public health consensus that lice, while uncomfortable, contagious, and inconvenient, does not constitute enough of a problem to have kids miss school because of it.

Getting some parents on board with this line of thinking may be problematic.

 

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.

 – Mohandas K. Gandhi

Convincing local parents of some things has indeed been a challenge – most notoriously to stop dropping their kids off in front of the high school. It’s been over four years since the school district purchased two homes adjacent the building with the intent of creating a parking and drop-off area – a move met with ire and distrust by other neighboring property owners who felt they had not been adequately communicated with, and whose concerns were addressed harshly by the then-President of the school board. I wrote about this as it was happening, alongside another local land use controversy that by most accounts seems to have been amicably resolved.

According to another Herald story this past week, it appears that those concerns about safety and land use may be resurfacing, owing to the continued intransigence of parents and students to respect the rules of the road, combined with a perceived indifference on the part of the school district.

The current school board President, seemingly more comfortable with addressing what students put in the yearbook than their ignorance of traffic and safety requirements, seemed to shrug the whole issue off:

“Until those students and families take ownership of the safety issue, nothing’s going to change.”

The Leetsdale councilor that lives nearby, and has witnessed numerous near-misses, lamented, “I just think it’s going to be a matter of time and we’re all going to say we should have done something.”

With summer break now upon us, perhaps it’s time to re-think the approach of any community-based effort. First and foremost, the real concerns of residents need to be defined. Is this about safety in the area, or the potential loss of real estate to a future high school expansion?

Depending upon the answer, instead of posting a yellow sign in the yard I would be willing to don a yellow safety vest and monitor the front of the school in the morning or afternoon. I would document pedestrian and traffic violations, along with the license plate numbers of violators, and provide that information to those in authority, who would hopefully take the necessary corrective action.

Perhaps a consistently visible citizen presence, combined with a commitment from both school and borough to enforce what laws they can, may be enough to persuade our fellow citizens to drop and pick up their charges where it’s legal and safe to do so.

Our school district faces numerous challenges with a decent track record in recent years. Its reputation as a place to obtain an excellent public education enables a lot of good things to happen in our community, such as providing a foundation for strong communities to sustain themselves – and hey, real estate agents need to make a living, too.

With these recent hiccups, the potential exists for a more contentious relationship to develop between the school district and those well-educated alumni who are populating, and in many cases running, the communities making up the Quaker Valley. The specter of a tax increase doesn’t help.

The QV board, and the administration they employ to oversee district operations, would do well to remember who oversees them, and that a continued commitment to transparency, accountability, and meaningful, respectful dialogue is essential to gaining community buy-in for any future plans at the high school and other facilities.

 

The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.

Edward R. Murrow

With that admonition, have a great summer.

 

 

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This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Government, History, Local, Media, Schools, Security, Traffic and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Quaker Valley: A Great Year Ends with Crash, Thuds

  1. Pingback: Quotations, Tribulations, and the Carol of the Bells | John Linko

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