September 29, 2017

Writing these weekly messages the past years has been a labor of love, and I am so grateful to all the students, staff, and parents who read them and share them … even the long ones! While our district, schools, and teachers are literally number one in California’s Niche rankings, they do not rank students, parents, administrators, or support staff. Well, in the McGee rankings, these folks are NUMBER ONE in the state and well beyond, and I have ample indisputable evidence from firsthand observations, survey data, and immersive interaction to support this ranking. There are literally not enough superlatives to describe how deeply I respect all our staff, how dearly I cherish each of the 15,000+ students I have served, and how much I appreciate the extensive parent support of our schools. The opportunity to lead and serve all of you has been a wonderful opportunity and I hope that the heart and soul I – and my wife, Jan – have devoted has made a difference in some way.

I am proud of all that we have accomplished together: investing deeply and thoughtfully in the work of our Minority Achievement and Talent Development team; creating and sustaining Advanced Authentic Research (AAR); supporting reading and writing workshops; devoting important human and financial resources to serve students with disabilities; making full-day kindergarten a reality; upgrading mathematics instructional materials and pedagogy; supporting meaningful professional learning; approving innovative new courses; endorsing our learning design team’s preliminary work; setting meaningful goals that matter; and focusing extraordinary efforts to support students’ wellness, safety, and health.

To be sure, there remain problems to solve, obstacles to surmount, and conflicts to settle, but the foundation for addressing these and moving forward is solid. Our administrative leaders are second to none, and the new principals and district leaders we hired and placed this year are the best “recruiting class” I have known, bar none. In just two months, they have proven themselves beyond all expectations and have assured a bright future for our district as they join a team of considerable all-stars who will continue to devote themselves to making our vision a reality. I cannot recall a leadership team I have trusted or respected more, a team who has worked harder or longer, or a team that cares as deeply about our students as this one. With your trust and support our district’s potential is boundless.

After 30 years as a superintendent, I am looking forward to a less frenetic pace and some novel opportunities. I am also looking forward to seeing my wife, in person and not on FaceTime, supporting our kids, and being more than a weekend grandpa. However, I will miss much about our district. I will especially miss our students and teaching staff. Through AAR, SEC, ASB, the musicals, plays, special events, athletics, focus groups, turkey fests, air bands, and just hanging out in classrooms or quads, I have had the enormous privilege of getting to know several students. I admire and appreciate their authentic voice and presence; their sense of purpose, passion, and compassion; and their energy, depth, and joy. I love them unconditionally and know that they will contribute in countless ways to our community, our great state, and far beyond.

As for the teaching staff, they are a special gift to our children and community. I cannot begin to enumerate the novel and innovative lessons taught in our classes. I have seen teachers light up students with joy, set growth mindsets in action, engage students in generating and sharing new knowledge, presenting quality work, immerse themselves in their lessons, demonstrate profound care to individuals in need, foster explosive enthusiasm and above all … yes … develop knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, while nurturing curiosity, creativity, and resilience.

Most of all, I will miss the people. I really like our teachers, administrators, and staff. The kind notes, welcoming smiles, and conversations - both light and deep - from our students, teachers, leaders, PTA and PIE parents, and many others made my day every day. I value who they are and what they do, and only hope that in turn these 3+ years of heart and soul I have devoted to our district have made a positive difference to them that will keep paying forward.

In closing, I will have access to the district e-mail this month, but if you would like my Gmail address, shoot me a note via mmcgee@pausd.org and I will gladly share it with you. Please give Interim Superintendent Ms. Karen Hendricks your full support. Karen and I have only worked together a few months, but I have really enjoyed her upbeat personality, admire the quality of her work and attention to detail, and appreciate her exceptional work ethic. You will find her accessible, likable, and committed to service.

As a student-teacher in 1970 at Lebanon (NH) high school, one of the first poems I taught was a Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem. At the time, I had pretty much no clue what it meant, but I have never forgotten it and have come to understand and appreciate it these past 47 years. It begins:

Fortune
                   has its cookies to give out
which is a good thing

 

Jan and I are eager to savor our next cookie and see what Fortune has in store. I have no doubt we will be blessed with abundant opportunities and that we will share many excellent adventures. Jan has sacrificed much so I could pursue our shared, lifelong commitment to issues of equity and student wellness, and I am thrilled to spend more time with her and support her efforts as she is co-authoring a book. She has been deeply hurt by the press coverage the past two weeks knowing all we have given. Therefore, my first order of business is to attend to her as she continues to devote long days to serving children of poverty back in Chicago.

Well, we have reached the end of a fabulous journey together. David Foster Wallace signed off a commencement address with: “I wish you way more than luck.” I like that. Those words seem fitting. Stephen Covey’s “seek first to understand and then be understood,” was some of the wisest advice I have received. Those words seem fitting, too. Along with them, my final words are to ask that you nurture and cultivate a collective community of kindness, compassion, and curiosity. All children can then flourish. May many of our paths cross again, and until then … over and out.