(Aug. 30, 2019) Fostering relationships was the message delivered repeatedly Tuesday morning at the Worcester County school system’s #WeAreWorcester Opening Kick-Off event.
“We’ve got to make a difference,” Superintendent Lou Taylor told the audience of school system employees at the annual pep rally at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City.
Nearly every seat was full in the Performing Arts Center, with most of the crowd wearing matching “We are Worcester” T-shirts.
William Gordy, president of the Worcester County Board of Education, wished employees luck ahead of their first day of school on Tuesday.
“Please know that we are all behind you in your efforts as you prepare for school,” Gordy said.
The Worcester County Commissioners, Sheriff Matt Crisafulli and other elected officials were in attendance as well.
Worcester County Public Schools employees jumped to their feet with thunderous applause as Taylor ran from the auditorium’s second floor to the stage to TI’s “Bring ‘em out.”
Taylor addressed the crowd with a new message for the 2019-20 school year: the idea of unlimited possibilities.
“The real reason we’re here is for the 6,700 kids … that will enter our schools on Tuesday,” Taylor said. “Last year, as you remember, I talked about making it magical. We talked about making it magical all year. This year I’m going to talk about skies being the limit.”
Taylor reinforced this idea with an anecdote from his days as a principal of Stephen Decatur High School. He was a mentor to a child named Jason, who was often acting out in school. Despite Jason’s difficult home life and other obstacles, Taylor said, he was able to work with him over the years and develop a trusting relationship.
“But we’ve got Jasons everywhere in our schools,” Taylor said. “And we’ve got intelligent, smart gifted people sitting in this audience who can make that difference.”
Taylor emphasized the need to break down barriers when working with children.
“It’s important to build relationships,” Taylor said.
The event’s keynote speaker was Patrick Briggs, northeast states director of the nonprofit organization AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).
“I am standing here before you today as an anomaly, because great teachers like you closed my opportunity and expectation gap,” Briggs said.
Briggs, who grew up in the inner city of Houston, slammed the idea of an “achievement gap” that is frequently talked about in the education world. The National Education Association defines achievement gap as “the differences between the test scores of minority and/or low-income students and the test scores of their white and Asian peers.”
Briggs said he somehow beat the odds.
“I can give you 50 reasons why I should be dead or in prison,” Briggs said. “I’m a statistical anomaly.”
Briggs went on to talk about how the achievement gap is caused by opportunity and expectation gaps.
Briggs further demonstrated this point by holding two $1 bills. One was flat, while another was crumpled. However, he asserted their values were still identical.
“So you’re telling me they have the same value, same worth and can achieve the same purpose?” Briggs asked.
That same analogy could also apply to two different types of students, according to Briggs. An honor student could succeed, while another child who repeatedly was sent to an in-school suspension might fail after leaving school.
“Kids have a strange way of living up to your expectations,” Briggs said.
Briggs said he was grateful to the educators who work to foster bonds with children to put them in the best possible position to succeed.
“I am standing before you today so grateful for people like you because you understood equity work,” Briggs said.
Following Briggs’ presentation, Fred Hertrich IV, president of Hertrich Family of Automobile Dealerships, expressed his appreciation to the hundreds of Worcester County educators during the event.
“We invest in you because you invested in us,” Hertrich said. “We want to recognize your hard work and sacrifice, and we know a strong education system means a strong community. What you do is really important.”
Hertrich then presented the keys to a 2019 Ford Escape to Teacher of the Year Gina Russell.
“You’re an inspiring educator,” Hertrich said. “You’re a marigold for your students, your family, your fellow team members, and your community.”
Worcester County employees received recognition from Taylor as they continue preparing for the first day of school, this Tuesday, Sept. 3.
“You are an absolutely fantastic group of professionals in this room,” Taylor said. “I thank you again for what you do.”
For more information about Worcester County Public Schools, visit worcesterk12.org.