PV Schools

Dear Putnam Valley Community:

As we prepare to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 16, 2017, I  would like to call your attention to some recent films that provide rich and remarkable background to help us understand the turning point in the history of civil rights that took place in 1963. Three films seem to capture the issues that moved Martin Luther King, Jr. as a Civil Rights leader.  August Wilson’s play, Fences, presents the plight of African-American workers in the fifties, and portrays themes of childhood disappointment, parenting, marital relationships and frustration with limited expectations that are common to all families. Moonlight is a poignant coming of age film that provides insights into the unique pain of young black men as they venture into the world.  These two films are not recommended for children. They explore adult topics and issues.

However, in a completely different way, and suitable for families to view, the movie, Hidden Figures, tells a story that captures vividly the context of Martin Luther King’s struggle for Civil Rights. In this film, based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, we learn about three women whose knowledge of mathematics was critical to John Glenn’s manned space flight in 1962, and the restoration of our pride in America’s role as the leader of scientific progress following the Soviet Union’s colossal “first in space” triumph in 1961. In this buried gem of our history, three African American women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, math prodigies, known as “human computers” for their ability to do complex calculations with incredible speed and accuracy, were called upon by NASA to calculate and plot the space launches and the return of astronauts to earth. Even with the invention of the first IBM computers, these women taught themselves to program and were relied upon to ensure the safe return of our men in space.

We haven’t heard about these women because their story was hidden; nor were their hardships in a segregated environment revealed. Even with all their knowledge and skill, because they were African American, they suffered indignities that shock us today.  They were required to walk a ½ mile to get to a segregated bathroom, and even denied the use of the coffee pot in the break-room.  Undaunted, they rise above the hardships; they are committed to their nation and the dream of space travel.  Finally, last year, their leader, Katherine Johnson, 98, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I hope that your family will be able to see this film.  You will find inspiration and much to admire and revere in the dignity and humanity of these three American heroes.  I believe they earn our deep respect for what Martin Luther King, Jr. called in his iconic “I have a dream” speech, the “content of their character.”

(Here is a link to the movie trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wfrDhgUMGI)

After Wednesday night’s high school chorus concert, I feel compelled to share a video-clip of our students who sang the song, “My Shot” from Hamilton against a backdrop also created by a student, sending the message of the dreams of our nation for unity of purpose within diversity of thought and experience, and the opportunity for each of our students to “rise” and make a difference. https://youtu.be/tLV_GcDbbA4


Dr. Frances Wills

Superintendent of Schools