Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Unlike Other Days

June 6

Yesterday was almost surreal. Expectations had led me to the familiar sense of anticipation, not unlike working backstage before the curtain goes up on opening night. When I got to the school, the scene was being set up with refreshments: Fruit, yogurt, coffeepot perking, boxes of doughnuts being opened, and spurts of nervous conversation about what would happen next.

Our first guest arrived about 7:35, the mother of a kindergartener. The first question she asked was what our school did about the required tests and exams the state demanded. Our new director gave her an almost-blank look and said, "The state doesn't require any tests or exams. It's just that public schools want you to think they do." The mother was favorably impressed, and there were enough of us who had graduated from the school in years past to tell her of our experiences with the Marietta Johnson method of education -- and how we had adapted when required to function within the traditional system -- to give a pretty complete picture. This lady had considered enrolling her kindergartener last year, but assured us that this year she would do it. We liked her. We hope to see her again.

Then, just after she left, a new Board member came in, a member of the city council who also runs the very popular seed, feed and plant store, came in. It was Cecil Christenberry, who revealed he likes reading his favorite book to school children -- and we signed him up, hoping he'll conduct his readings on a weekly basis. Cecil has a rich, deep voice, and an accessible manner; I have no doubt that he's going to be an asset to the team.

That was pretty much the way it went all day. There were lulls, and there was never a bottleneck with more than two people coming at a time, but all in all I would say the Open House was a success. We have at least two new students signed up as a result. But nobody signed a form and gave us a check yesterday. We have learned that until that happens, we need not count on anything.

Our goal was limited. We were introducing the new director. We had hoped that all the re-enrolling parents of last year would attend, but in reality only four did. We had expected that the on-the-fence parents would come and see for themselves (and, of course, sign up) but none did. We had the idea that many people would see the ad in the two local newspapers, and come to discuss their children's education, and some might just come out of curiosity, but there was almost none of that. Teachers and board members did come and chat about plans. In all, it was a successful introduction of the new director, but not extremly successful in recruiting new students. But it was a good start -- and we all got to know each other better.

While we were there, the teacher we'd been hoping to recruit telephoned and made an appointment to interview our new director (or is that vice versa? Let's say it's both) called and set up an appointment for Wednesday morning. This was the most exciting development of the day, and may turn out to be the most productive thing that happened. Can't even credit the Open House for it.

I sat in the nursing home dining room with my mother at about 6 P.M. awaiting the dinner trays, and my head was buzzing. I was exhilarated, even though it's always a downer to sit in the nursing home dining room awaiting the dinner trays. I had a lot to think about -- what if everything goes right this time after all? What if it doesn't? But strangely there was no reason to think it wouldn't and I wanted to think this was going to be an everything-fell-into-place situation. I have to be careful not to fall for those new directors -- I've done it twice so far and am determined not to make that mistake again. This time I'll just be the p-r guy and do my job. I admire Leslie and think she's going to pull this off, but if I overplay her talent it could backfire. And a lot depends on other factors in the next couple of weeks. We have to have a flow of good luck and positive parents.

When I got home there was an email from the teacher who had telephoned. We've been in discussions with this lady for a few months, the first-grade teacher for whom the parents line up in hopes of getting their children in her class. She is a graduate of our school and knows what it's all about -- plus she had good teacher training and experience. She has been the Children's Librarian at the Fairhope Library, and she used to manage a children's theater company, writing scripts for the kids and producing full-scale beautiful presentations of fairy tales, with gorgeous costumes and sets, using casts of 20 or 30 kids of all ages. Now she is simply the best elementary school teacher in town. If she takes the job we're offering, it will put our school back on the map. She'll not only teach First Life but also help us structure an Arts department for the future and recruit artists to work with us.

The email asked me for more information, and I emailed her back. An hour later she telephoned, and we gabbed for an hour. I am not convinced she knows yet what she wants to do. This is not an easy decision for her, leaving the security and pressure of the job she has for -- the unknown. I told her to wait until she had talked with Leslie to decide. She is sure she'll hit it off with Leslie; I am too.

If she says yes, a news release will go out immediately. She has some parents who will join us as soon as they hear. She will be a magnet for a number of new people. We may even have the problem of having to put some families on the waiting list. We may have to build a new building. But I can't think about that now. There are dreams, and there is real life.

Today I'll get back to normal. I'll go work out at the Wellness Center, I'll get gas put in my car and go grocery shopping. I'll get back on my diet. I'll read the newspaper. I'll go have a talk with someone sane. But yesterday brought up a whole world of unreal possibilities.

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