School Board demonstrates care, compassion

Published 11:04 pm Monday, March 18, 2013

By Bob Stephens

The Suffolk Public School Board demonstrated collective courage and compassion in its deliberate and unanimous decision last week to allow schools to hold their graduation ceremonies outside in stadiums.

The courage, compassion and genuine care reflected in each of their diverse responses clearly demonstrated how challenging the graduation capacity issue had become over the years; and that members were willing to take proactive steps toward finding a permanent solution.

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The board’s action certainly is not the panacea or end-all solution to this dilemma; however, it appropriately responded to the expressed desires of parents, grandparents, guardians, mentors and numerous others who wish to share in one of the most momentous occasions of students’ lives.

Acknowledging efforts to respond to the capacity issue over the years — and to the most recent request made by parent Lori Haymond and the King’s Fork High School Student Council members at the Feb. 14 meeting — the board exercised diligence and care to find a reasonable and viable short-term solution.

School superintendent Deran Whitney took Ms. Haymond to heart when she said, “We cannot delay a moment to discuss this.” His recommendation that the Board make a decision was certainly instrumental in getting members to take the first step toward progress. This contingent of leaders is to be commended for taking a leap of faith (and reason) to summon resolve and take action.

Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” If that is true, it suggests that the School Board and school administration can take steps to be creative and innovative to find the most practical, cost-effective long-term solution.

Following Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck’s suggestion of “…polling the families of all graduating seniors … so we know exactly what our constituents would like us to do….” is clearly the best place to begin. Continuing the discourse of listening to parents, students and taxpayers, and taking timely appropriate action will result in a well-intended solution that will be beneficial to all concerned.

In view of Suffolk’s diverse demographics and its expansive geography of 430 square miles, engaging the community to help find a long-term solution to the capacity problem could even result in public-private development plans with concessions that include a multi-purpose facility. Since Suffolk’s growth is imminent, maybe a municipal bond issuance to invest in such a facility — which would likely generate substantial revenue — would be yet another option to meet a growing community’s “residential” needs.

But for the near future and in the spirit of moving to the next step, may the Board’s example of leading with courage, compassion and partnership be commended and applauded.

Bob Stephens is co-founder of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk. He wrote this piece with son, Fletcher Stephens, president of the King’s Fork High School Student Council Association, and King’s Fork parent Lori Haymond. Email Bob Stephens at