PV Schools

Dear Putnam Valley Community:

In the past week, I was able to observe some extraordinary student activities that are particularly meaningful as prepare to celebrate Presidents’ Day on Monday. Visiting fourth grade classrooms last Friday, I observed students proudly presenting their research on colonial history and lives of early citizens. Using Google presentations or oral and hands-on demonstrations, our young students joyfully demonstrated their understanding of a way of life that incorporated physical labor, interdependence, and sharing of skills, common needs and resources. There were blacksmiths whose tasks were critical to the survival of the communities, farmers, silversmiths, housewives and children who maintained households, and one-room school houses, where older children taught the younger ones and somehow, learned to read and write. Survival required all hands at the ready. There was a simplicity that we might envy, but we also know that the work was physically exhausting and many died early from disease and environmental dangers.  The fourth grade children presented their work to younger grades and to supportive parents and teachers.

In a very different setting at the High School, I watched the Black History Month assembly presentation, a dramatization using documentary footage of the civil rights movement with a narrative of an actor who told the story of life in the South for African-American boys and girls in the fifties and sixties through the violence, lynchings and assassinations that accompanied voter registration drives, the integration of schools, sit-ins, freedom-rides and the Selma March. Our eighth grade and high school students heard a first person account of the struggle that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For our students, history came alive in this way and many looked at their companions differently. As I left the PAC, I heard one young man turn to his black friend and say, with some awkwardness, and heartfelt, but with a smile,  “Now I understand.”

Within the context of these engaging history lessons in our schools, I was inspired to remark upon the celebration of Presidents’ Day this year, and I thought it would be meaningful to honor the day by turning to the messages of Washington and Lincoln in their first inaugural addresses.  Washington actually created the custom of the inaugural speech. There was no requirement for the first President to address the citizens. Rather there was a duty to recommend “such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”   Rather than specific policies, Washington used the opportunity to express the importance of an “equal eye” to oversee the community, “order and right,” “private morality,” and “preservation of the sacred fire of liberty” and “destiny of the republican model of government,” and what he called the “experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” 

Lincoln spoke 72 years later in his first Inaugural Address and grappled with the struggle to keep the union together, divided over the awful root of slavery that threatened its existence. He attempted to persuade his countrymen that secession was impossible without “anarchy.” Yet he expressed his faith in the Constitution and the courts and asserted his belief that the nation would survive. While Washington had the unquestioned confidence of the founders, Lincoln was elected by a majority of the Electoral College and only 40% of the popular vote. His inaugural was a plea for unification. He couldn’t know the extent of the horror that Civil War would bring.  His final words remain relevant and powerful today:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

For me it is instructive and helpful to read both of these great Inaugurals.  They shed light on our continued quest to create “a more perfect union.” The speeches can be found at:

teachingamericanhistory.org › Newsletter. Another powerful website for research on documents that have shaped our history is https://ourdocuments.gov/content.php?page=milestone

Wishing all a few days of respite before we meet again on Wednesday, February 22, Washington’s Birthday!

Dr. Frances Wills

Superintendent of Schools