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Dear Putnam Valley Community:

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. At our schools there was a great deal of activity, a Blood Drive at the High School, a day to wear red in all schools to honor a former teacher who died in service and to raise money for student scholarships to honor a former teacher, and a day to support public education. Last evening, our high school student performers astonished the crowd at the library performance space with their one-act productions created by student playwrights. The student writers and performers tackled themes that were challenging, moving, and humorous: the quality of relationships, pondering what makes a person “normal,” and the humor in Thanksgiving family gatherings.

However, after last year’s tragedy at Margaret Stoneman Douglas High School, Valentine’s Day has a changed meaning in schools throughout our country. It has become a day of thoughtful remembrance and reviewing our student safety planning. In Putnam Valley, we are also reflecting on the wounds that have been suffered by families in our school district in the last month. The blue heart still glows at the end of the high school driveway. Personally, I continue to learn from feelings of helplessness to find a place for hope and future resolutions. There is a universality of shared emotion in absorbing the loss of a child, a parent, a colleague. We continue to mourn with parents and friends and to construct another level of understanding. As educators and parents, we want our students to see purpose and meaning in their lives and to empower them to believe in their ability to shape their future. As we move forward, we also continue to see the importance of education in developing the minds and hearts of our students as they grow to embrace the larger world of historic and present challenges that are experienced by those who live and work with us.

During the month of February, we celebrate the birthdays of Presidents Lincoln and Washington. We also honor Black History Month. In March, our attention turns to Women’s History. Both Lincoln and Washington influenced the way we approach Black History, and given the limited roles available to women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and well into the twentieth,  we can appreciate the transformation underway for both African-Americans and for women at present. We know that the origins of our nation in a compromise that included slavery has led to divisions that are unthinkable today. For those who have seen The Green Book, there is a deeper understanding of the humiliation that continued for African Americans well into the mid-twentieth century and exists all too frequently today. Those who attended the High School Music Department’s Great Works concert on Wednesday evening celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday were reminded of the tragic themes of cultural division that are reflected in West Side Story and in New York City’s history.

We teach our students about those who have made a difference, who have stood for justice with the hope that these exemplars ignite a similar passion to make the world a better place. We want our students to question, to think, to be ready to take their place as active participants in a society that recognizes the need for civic action in the voting booth and through conversations that bring people together while respecting disagreements. That awakening is more evident today, as we find our way to coming to terms with history, not just during February and March, but through our daily interactions, and our awareness of others and their lived experience. We are dedicated to providing sanctuary for students of color, of every gender or sexual orientation, those who are learning English, who have disabilities, who are vulnerable to attack for their religion or their appearance.

Our schools are essentially sanctuaries. I know that Dr. Luft, who will be our Superintendent of Schools as of 2019-20 and has been an avid collaborator with our leadership team on these goals for student success and acceptance, joins us in our commitment to ensuring that Putnam Valley schools are safe and welcoming spaces for all of our children. Schools are the commons where we practice empathy, and respect for the dignity of each member of the school community, adults and children.  As we know, the power of social media has challenged our ability to sustain the infrastructure of safety that our children need. We aspire to meet the challenge and to overcome the words and deeds that threaten harm to the community we cherish. We cannot allow external forces to topple the opportunity provided by public education to build a conceptual framework to guide their life choices based on the discernment of evidence-based principles that lead to doing the right thing. We owe our children the opportunity to learn how to question and how to strengthen the principles that govern the American values we pledge to uphold each day in our schools.

Today, as if to serve as a capstone for our focus on student development as critical thinkers, we were notified of our high school’s authorization as an International Baccalaureate School. This award represents commitment by our high school principal Dr. Intrieri, administration, staff and faculty to a rigorous internationally validated curriculum assessment process and to supporting students in finding pathways to explore their highest potential in areas of strengths and interest.

The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. James Baldwin

Sincerely,

Dr. Frances Wills
Superintendent of Schools