An Open Letter of Thanks to Those Who Serve Our Young People

November 23, 2010

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”

~ George Augustus Moore, The Brook Kerith, Ch. 11 (1916)

Even though we Americans consume resources at an impressive rate, when asked what we value most, we identify our family, friends and communities. The traditions of Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday, remind us to offer thanks for all we value, which typically doesn’t include our cars, computers or televisions. Rather, we give thanks for our children, parents, friends, loved ones, colleagues, and those serving our country in far away lands.

Thanksgiving is also a time when we remind ourselves to reach out and help those less fortunate or with fewer resources than we possess. Despite the hardships of living in a time when we experience daily a struggling economy, a climate of political dissatisfaction, and work overloads on the job, we all take a break this week to express our gratitude to and for those around us. It’s a time when we remind ourselves that we humans are truly “all in this together.”

As we begin this week, my first thank you goes to those who serve the children of Albemarle County. Despite the fact that we serve more children with fewer resources than this time last year, you continue to dedicate yourselves to young people. You take money out of your own pockets to fill in gaps so that children will have what they need, including snacks, healthcare, and basic supplies. I recently spoke with the spouse of a teacher who said, “I don’t even ask about the snack receipts anymore. I know she’s just trying to help kids who might otherwise not have a snack.”

In many cases, you are teaching larger classes than we have seen since the mid-nineties. Funds for professional development have dropped dramatically in just three years. Teacher stipends have been cut. Mandates continue to flow from the federal and state governments. Salaries have been frozen for every one employed by Albemarle County. Out-of-pocket health costs have risen. Positions have been eliminated in every department and school without any expectation from our public that we stop providing any services. The national and local media do us no favors by focusing on stories that reflect negatively on public education rather than on the many accomplishments for which our nation, state and community should be thankful as we go into this holiday break.

Our young people attend schools that are some of the best maintained in the United States because of our Building Services staff. They ride safely on buses that travel more than 12,000 miles daily with only a very small chance of being in an accident. They are taught by educators who represent excellence as a teaching faculty— as good as any in the nation. Our principals do whatever it takes to provide support, from making sure that fees for field trips and extracurricular activities are available to those in need to standing in the rain and snow to greet learners when they arrive and leave each day. The work of our schools and Division runs smoothly because of employees, both clerical and administrative, who often may be the least visible—those who provide support so that paychecks get cut, personnel issues get resolved, instructional supplies get ordered, reports get filed, and phones get answered.

In a day and age when we expect every young person to graduate on-time with the highest quality education possible, it truly takes a community of educators and support staff to make that happen. I am proud of Albemarle County Public Schools. I am thankful to you for being the kind of employees who give your best every day, despite the challenges created by our current economic crisis. Our young people are fortunate that you are in their corner and on their side. When I sit down at this year’s Thanksgiving table to gather with family and friends, you will be on the list of those for whom I am most grateful.