Excellence & Compassion Go Hand-in-Hand
William S. McKersie, Ph.D
September 7, 2015
Excellence requires Compassion; Compassion requires Excellence. That is the heart of my Superintendent’s Opening Message for 2015-16.
We are in the business of educating and caring for children and adolescents. Fostering excellence and striving for compassion is the mandate. In the human business, we have no other choice.
Let me tell you the Story of Kenny to show how and why Excellence and Compassion go Hand-in-Hand. Kenny is a student I worked with 30 years ago when I was an administrator and athletic coach at Northfield Mount Hermon School—a boarding school serving grades 9-12 and post-graduates in western Massachusetts.
Kenny’s story starts in Chapel Hill, NC as a sixth grader. A uniquely dedicated sixth grade teacher, Terry Greenlund, while observing another sixth grade teacher’s class, found Kenny wedged between a bookshelf and a wall. The teacher of the class had given up on Kenny—“I can’t get him to do anything,” the teacher told Greenlund.
Greenlund was concerned. He made inquiries and had Kenny transferred to his class. Greenlund quickly learned that Kenny was a gifted student and athlete, but with challenges. Kenny lived with his single mother in a Chapel Hill housing development, notable for the town sign at the entrance saying “No Way Out.”
After sixth grade, it became clear to Greenlund, and to Kenny, that Chapel Hill was not going to push him. Thus, New England boarding schools became the goal. That is how I came to know Kenny.
Kenny arrived at Northfield Mount Hermon as a ninth grader; four years later he was headed to the University of Pennsylvania.
Three weeks ago, Kenny reappeared in my life through Facebook, when he posted a celebration of his oldest son achieving an officer appointment in the military.
Kenny’s picture has been on my office wall for many years. The picture is in a framed article from The Chapel Hill Newspaper entitled, “A Matter of Excellence – They Would Have Done Just Fine Here…That was the problem.” The article reported on how Kenny, and another male student, never benefited from high expectations in Chapel Hill, a typically successful school system a lot like Greenwich. Eventually, Kenny and the other student had to find another educational option.
While this story is about Kenny, it is as much a story about Greenlund, the teacher. Greenlund is known for being at once COMPASSIONATE and demanding EXCELLENCE.
Greenlund was a highly dedicated, multi-decade teacher in the Chapel Hill-Carborro District, always looking first to how Chapel Hill could keep and help students. He was president of the Chapel Hill Federation of Teachers Local and an active leader on district, state and Governor Committees and task forces. He established AVID in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in 1996 and became a statewide AVID leader (Our AVID leaders know Greenlund.). From 1996 onward, Greenlund focused on AVID as the way to have the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools challenge and support all students (Knowing that students might need different schooling options, Greenlund continued to help some students find educational matches in independent schools.).
Excellence and Compassion combined for Kenny starting in sixth grade. Without Greenlund’s deep dedication to blending Excellence and Compassion, Kenny may not have made it from being wedged between a wall and bookshelf with no way out, to attending a rigorous high school, to graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, to being the proud father of a rising military officer.
Kenny’s story is a familiar one to many of us—in Greenwich and our sister districts, such as the highly regarded Chapel Hill. This year, let’s all double down on our commitment to Excellence and Compassion Going Hand-in-Hand in all our work. Let’s take a page from Greenlund and make a point of searching out the “Kennys” in our midst to make sure that the Greenwich Public Schools are our students’ best option for an education rich in both Excellence and Compassion.
September 7, 2015 Superintendent Message: Excellence and Compassion go Hand-in-Hand
June 18, 2015 Superintendent's GHS Graduation Speech
June 2015, Superintendent Message: Distinguished Ideas 2015
April 7, 2015, Superintendent Message: Winning with Character
March 5, 2015, Superintendent Message: Gauging Progress in the GPS - Take Two
February 1, 2015, Superintendent Message: Innovation Lab: Deep Learning In and For the Real World
January 12, 2015, Superintendent Message: Hot Topics for the Cold Months
December 1, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Gauging Progress in the GPS – Take One
November 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Lots of Industry...Lots of Product - Part II
October 7, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Lots of Industry...Lots of Product - Part I
September 2, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Our Signature: Achievement and Caring
June 1, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Distinguished Ideas
2014 Distinguished Teachers Essays
April 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Accelerating Achivement for All: Greenwich and the Achievement Gap
March 4, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Smarter Balanced - Field Test: Facts & Interpretation
February 5, 2014, Superintendent's Message: A Word on the Common Core
January 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Popular Knowledge of Complex Questions
December 3, 2013, Superintendent's Message: Distinguished Reflections
November 27, 2013, Superintendent's Thanksgiving Day Message
November 12, 2013, The Roots of Excellence
September 26, 2013, Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on our Call to Action and Strategic Focus
September 11, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
September 3, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
April 25, 2012, Superintendent of Schools Appointment Announcement
Resume for William S. McKersie (April 2012)