Growing up in Newton County, my dad coached me a few years in Dixie Boys baseball. I wasn’t the most aggressive boy. As a matter of fact, I still have a hard time understanding the energy and rambunctiousness of little boys. Being a somewhat uncharacteristically cautious boy, if I was uncertain whether or not the ball was absolutely in the strike zone, I would default to watching strike three cross the plate…without ever swinging the bat. In baseball nomenclature it’s called, “getting caught looking.” The dreaded backward K in the scorebook. And it would anger my dad to no end. He would say, “don’t ever get caught looking! If it’s close, SWING THE BAT!” He was right, you must at least give yourself a chance of getting a hit. For my dad, it was more noble to strike out swinging than to get caught looking.

For my dad, it was more noble to strike out swinging than to get caught looking.

I’ve tried to take that Little League lesson into my life. When faced with situations where I’m not certain, my tendency is to be calculated, go slow, and make sure of something before acting. This can pay dividends, but it can also cost you to strike out with the bat on your shoulder. And I still get caught looking at times. But now it makes me even more aware of my opportunities to swing the bat.

I had a chance to swing the bat this week.

Today, a letter will go home with Newton County middle and high school students. The purpose of this letter from our Superintendent is to:

  • explain our knowledge of the national school walkout being organized for Wednesday March 14, 2018,
  • remind parents and students that we DO NOT condone such activities on campus during the school day,
  • reassure parents that we will take extra safety precautions,
  • and to explain the discipline that each student will face if they walk out of class.

The author of this letter and our Superintendent, Ms. Samantha Fuhrey, has done extensive research, talked with several state agencies including legal representatives, met with other regional superintendents, and procured the collective wisdom of her executive leadership team. She is confident that we are doing the right thing and she wanted to communicate that to parents and students prior to tomorrow’s events. That is commendable.

Ms. Fuhrey was recently a finalist for State Superintendent of the Year. Out of over 200 school systems, the state recognized the fantastic work she has done in putting Newton County Schools on a path to progress. With the many challenges that we face in Newton County and in public schools in general, you can’t deny the results. Over 70% of our students receive free or reduced lunch (indicating a growing poverty issue) yet our graduation rate has jumped SIX points in the last three years and now exceeds the state average. I respect her greatly. And I do not want another superintendent in Newton County for years to come.

But we don’t always agree. I believe that tension is often the grain of sand in the oyster shell that irritates just enough to create a pearl. The ability to have difficult conversations, with mutual respect, often creates a more valuable outcome than if we drew lines in the sand and refused to have productive dialogue. Our team, the Superintendent and the elected Board of Education representatives, are better together than we are apart.

The ability to have difficult conversations, with mutual respect, often creates a more valuable outcome than if we drew lines in the sand and refused to have productive dialogue.

Last week as Superintendent Fuhrey was composing the aforementioned letter to parents, she was kind and humble enough to send me a copy. She did not have to do that. There was nothing in her job description that stated she needed our approval for an administrative matter. Yet she sent me a copy to read. I shared some concerns. She listened. She made some adjustments.

Still, I did not agree in totality with our stance on this potentially volatile matter. I will not comment on my views of the students and their message, but I will instead direct my comments to their behavior.

I believe in free speech, but I do not believe students should disregard school rules.
Plan a parade or a rally. Host events to bring awareness.
But DO NOT disrupt an environment designed to HELP you learn.

I believe in peaceful protests, but I believe students should be prepared to face the consequences for their actions.
Much good has come from peaceful protests in the past. However, most protest organizers knew the potential consequences for their actions. The apostles Peter and John knew that if they continued preaching the Gospel they would be imprisoned. They did it anyway.
Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that if he organized a sit-in that he might be incarcerated. He did it anyway.

These heroes knew what the consequences would be for their actions and determined that their cause was worth it.

I believe in free speech, but I do not believe students should disregard school rules.

I believe in peaceful protests, but I believe students should be prepared to face the consequences for their actions.

Therefore, I believe the school system should not lessen the discipline for any student choosing to peacefully protest during the school day. If the handbook says, “minimum three days ISS (In-School Suspension),” then so be it. Don’t change policy. Let the students decide if their cause is truly worth the consequences.

I have a few more items of concern in regards to safety, and the potential Pandora’s Box of protests we could be opening by lessening the resulting discipline for this walkout. I can only hope and pray that tomorrow’s events are safe and the last of their kind. Time will tell.

Back to baseball and my uncertainty of the strike zone. I contemplated whether or not to even voice my opinions to Ms. Fuhrey.  It really isn’t my decision anyway. And I trust our superintendent. Yet, I still felt a nagging conviction.

So, we met. She listened. We had robust dialogue. And nothing really changed on paper.

So, we met. She listened. We had robust dialogue. And nothing really changed on paper.

Has my trust in the Superintendent waned? No.
Has my influence come to naught? No.
Did I waste my time? No.
Did I strike out? It kinda feels that way…but…
Did I get caught looking? NO!

Do not strike out with the bat on your shoulder.

Surround yourself with people who aren’t just like you.
Listen to them.
Disagree with them.
Respect one another.
Hold to your convictions.
And share yourself with others.

You WILL open yourself up to the risk of striking out.
And every swing will NOT lead to a home run.
But if you take the risk and swing the bat…you won’t ever get caught looking.

For it is more noble to strike out swinging than to get caught looking.