PV Schools

Dear Staff and Community:

As we honor Black History Month, Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday in February, I wanted to share some reflections with you. Recently, based on a number of events, some local, some national, I have thought more about the role of civics and history in our schools.  Certainly, our required courses in U.S. History and Participation in Government address the issues that we have struggled with as a nation since our origins, as we strive to reach the ideals of our democracy. Those fortunate enough to have seen the play, Hamilton, have experienced a transformational realization of the wonder America and its freedoms represent to the world as well as our continually sharpened insights into the darker human sides of our “pursuit of happiness.”  Teaching about civics, about civil rights, and civil behavior takes place, not only in the classroom, but also in the daily interactions that constitute the climate and culture of our school. Most important, we strive to demonstrate inclusion of all students and their families in our educational arena. That means developing sensitivity to the different perspectives we encounter, to experiences that others have, incidents that may have made them sensitive to even inadvertent slights, and to the history of the African Americans who, from the beginning of our national consciousness, have suffered grave human injustice. 

In a recent NYT magazine article (www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/magazine/the-painful), the author discusses the notion of “erasure” or making lives invisible through the way we construct and teach history and pay varied levels of attention to events that occur in the present and the past. One particular notation made me cringe. Apparently, the Texas State Board of Education has rewritten their approved history texts to omit any mention of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and even the role of slavery as central to understanding the Civil War. Because Texas is such a populous state, its approved textbooks are often distributed nationally.  However, Putnam Valley is in another place, and I have been moved by classes in our schools that tackle the difficult moments in our history. Our teachers present the facts of those times caringly, candidly, and with respect for students whose stories and present were shaped by those moments.

Our literature classes also tackle these subjects, whether students are reading Eagle Song, Roll of Thunder, Here my Cry or Long Walk to Water or Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Night, they are exposed to the nuances and layers of meaning that exist in the human struggle to understand and empathize with each other. In fact in our high school’s most recent magazine, “Illiterature,” posted on website, you can read a student analysis of Reconstruction, that seeks to understand the role of that murky, often misinterpreted period in our history.

There is an instructive and meaningful TED talk by Chhimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of A Single Story, (http://ed.ted.com/on/oQQimtYK) that is particularly moving, as she explains the way people become diminished by simplified and one-dimensional stereotypes, ignoring the complexity of our individual stories.  By reminding us to respect the uniqueness of each human story, Adiche compels us to pay attention to our responsibility to preserve the dignity of each member of our community.

I hope we can all find a good way to honor February’s important historical markers, including, of course, Valentine’s Day, when love is celebrated.  

Have a safe and enjoyable winter break!


Dr. Frances Wills
Superintendent of Schools