Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
As my tenure as a public educator ends after 40 years, I see this in living color in the hundreds, if not thousands, of students, parents and staff members I’ve worked with over the decades. My most recent, and last, foray into delaying my retirement has been as a one-year interim superintendent in Altoona.
My initial feelings were to avoid stepping into a situation that may have been an effort in futility based on negative presentations of the school. I soon learned that almost the opposite was true. I was greeted by staff, community and students with kindness and enthusiasm that could not have lasted the entire year had it not been genuine.
Thank you to the energetic and enthusiastic administrators and board members who allowed me to lead in my own style. When I took the position, I asked the board president, Robin Elvig, what I was expected to do. She said, “Ron, just be nice to people.” When I’ve shared this quote I’ve told people that I’ve tried to be kind and that I really didn’t have to do any work. What I’ve meant by this is that I’ve felt kindness from everyone in Altoona and that I never felt that going to work was in any way drudgery.
What a pleasure it has been. Please know that Altoona is a gem in the Chippewa Valley. The community leadership including the mayor, city manager and all the city employees work hard every day for the citizens of Altoona. River Prairie is shining proof of a great community vision but every corner of this city is a point of pride to all.
The school district of Altoona, too, is blessed with wonderful students, school board, administrative team and staff. I’m excited that our school board and administrative team has committed to a new style of leadership called “coherent governance.” This way of leading will not only make the role of administration and board members more clear to them but also to you as a community. Please support them in this great effort and take some time to learn how this style of leadership will benefit our students and the community.
As you head into the future I’d encourage you to keep in mind the past year’s theme I’d had for myself and the school, “Moving Forward with the Focus on Our Students.” When asked why we needed this focus my reply was always, “Because our kids are watching.” If we remember that everything we do begins and ends with our children, we will have the vision and drive we need to work hard and do right.
In 1978 I began work in Altoona as a two-week block student from UW-Eau Claire. Forty-one years later I am truly blessed to be able to end my career in Altoona. I’ve felt harmony in the halls of Altoona every day. At graduation this year I told the seniors of a quote from, of all people, Frank Underwood, the fictional character in the TV series, “House of Cards.” When he talked to a graduating class from his alma mater, he told them what his time there meant to him. In what he said, I too, feel much the same about my very brief time in Altoona. He said, “Harmony. That’s the word stuck in my mind. Harmony. It’s not about what’s lasting or permanent. It is about individual voices coming together. For a moment. And that moment lasts ... the length of a breath.”
Thank you Altoona!
Walsh has been serving as interim superintendent for the school district of Altoona.