For those of you that do not know, I started my career as a social studies teacher. As a student of history, I find comfort in knowing that when faced with a difficult challenge more likely than not there have been others in the past that have faced the same or similar challenges. So about midway through our referendum attempt, I decided to dip into the school district's archives and read the school board meeting minutes from April 25, 1967. That meeting happened just a few weeks prior to our school district's last successful referendum - almost 50 years ago. Here's what I found.
We should take comfort in knowing that we were not alone in having difficulty getting people to attend our informational meetings. I remember at our first meeting, I insisted our custodians put up every folding chair we owned in the gym because I was expecting a big crowd and was afraid if we didn't have enough seats for everyone the headline in the paper would read, "Standing room only crowd for Palos 118 referendum meeting." I guess you can say I was overly optimistic about our turnout.
But our friends in 1967 had the same problem. In the 1967 meeting minutes, a board member expressed their disappointment in the community's participation when pointing out only a "few people" showed up for their information meeting. By the way, I know administrators who attended all three of our informational meetings will enjoy this factoid. The 1967 board of education only held one informational meeting for their referendum and the superintendent appears to be the only administrator to attend.
According to the official 1967 records, we weren't the only ones that gave a pretty compelling presentation about the need for our referendum. In the '67 minutes, a board member noted that even though nobody was listening, the superintendent gave a "fine presentation" of the school district's problem at hand.
It looks like the mindset of Palos superintendents hasn't changed much since 1967. Throughout our process, I firmly believed the success of our referendum hinged on members of this group personally reaching out to voters and convincing them that a "yes" vote was the right vote. And so did my colleague in 1967. Palos Superintendent Bechtlofft reported to the board his belief that the success of their referendum depended on personally reaching out to voters via a telephone campaign organized by room mothers. With the help of our very own room mother in chief, our group did one better by knocking on doors and talking to people face to face.
The official records also illustrate our community's enduring love for our dedicated, passionate and inspiring teachers with whom this accomplishment would not be possible. By telling our story in their own words, they helped our community understand why this referendum was so important to the development of our early learners. Teachers in 1967 were also instrumental in the passage of their referendum. According to the minutes, the teachers union provided "ferry service" to get voters to the polls, which makes me wonder how many voters Miss Lee would have packed in the back of her Subaru if we had asked.
But there were some differences between our effort and the effort of our friends from 1967. When the 1967 Board voted to authorize their referendum, they had yet to determine the actual scope of the project, including the number of classrooms to be constructed. They hadn't hired an architect. There was no budget and no cost estimates. They hadn't even established a timeline for project completion. Now not to pass judgement on a former superintendent or school board, but those people are lucky Facebook wasn't invented because I'm pretty sure they would have been torn apart online for poor planning.
Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, It's the only thing that ever has." Because of all your efforts, how that message rings true. For our youngest most vulnerable learners, you changed their world. Their futures are brighter because of you. This isn't the time to downplay the significance of what we've accomplished. Generations of kids will benefit because of your thoughtfulness and commitment. Thank you.