Journey to reality

Published 11:04 pm Thursday, October 25, 2012

As a regular at Suffolk’s School Board meetings, my mental picture of Superintendent Deran Whitney is of an exceedingly even-tempered man with his mind on the broader picture.

He’s sitting behind a desk in the City Council chambers with the seven School Board members and other school district officials, helping make decisions impacting every child attending a public school in Suffolk.

Whitney would have to be one of the most unflappable public administrators I’ve ever had reason to observe at regular intervals over a period of time, and there have been a few.

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Sometimes you just want him to get fired up, beat the desk with his fists or something.

So it was a memorable experience Wednesday to see him interact face-to-face with a classroom full of Creekside Elementary students selected by their teachers to attend a meeting of the school’s Breakfast Club.

At a guess, the fact that they are selected by their teachers to attend means these young male students may be considered at risk of not reaching their full potential, so I was anticipating some interesting questions for the superintendent.

But the boys, sensing authority beyond the norm in their midst, were on their best behavior, and that contributed to what seemed to be a helpful discussion about how to lift academic performance.

Setting appropriate goals, listening in class, doing homework and always trying your hardest were the back-to-basics take-home lessons for the students.

Though he was wearing the exact same type of suit that he wears at every School Board meeting, and didn’t exhibit any reaction that would skew my mental picture, the superintendent’s visit to Creekside added a new dimension to this reporter’s perception of him.

There’s a time during every School Board meeting when members recount their recent venturing into the district’s schools, but it’s rare the wider public hears about or witnesses these visits.

Perhaps if it were less rare, parents and others would have more faith that school administrators are always trying their best, as Whitney exhorted the Creekside students to do, to improve academic standards in Suffolk. Sometimes test standardized test scores and statistics are all we have to go on.

I now have more of an impression that the superintendent takes a personal interest in the lives of the thousands of students whose education he’s responsible for, and that he is better informed by getting out from behind a desk.