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Superintendent's Message

James Neihof

They come every year. Some handwritten. Some typed. Some emailed. Some short. Some long. In many ways, the one I received Friday was just like all the others. It was short - one sentence stating the intent to retire effective June 30, 2017. Yet, the letter said much more to me. Maybe it was because it was from someone I taught with. Maybe it was because I spoke with a student a few weeks ago who told me this teacher was one of his life’s greatest positive influences. Or maybe it was because I’ve seen so many great teachers give themselves joyfully, selflessly, and with no-regret to this profession. I’m not sure why, but this weekend, as I consider teacher appreciation week, I’m filled with profound pride to have watched and worked alongside so many outstanding people in this profession – people who live out our mission over a lifetime – leading by example and embracing social responsibility.

I’m not the greatest at expressions of appreciation. Truth be told, most times it makes me uncomfortable. Often when I’m giving a compliment, I wonder if the recipient senses my sincerity. Or do they think it is just an obligation of my job? I hope not. On the other hand, at times I reflect on my missed opportunities to acknowledge the beautifully winsome lives of the people who work alongside us every day – teachers living exemplarily in front of nearly 7,000 students, parents, and community members. 

Our teachers work in a confusing time when several of America’s loudest politicians lament the decline of morality, angrily accuse public school teachers of half-hearted efforts and poor results; and then ask the same teachers they just publicly humiliated to magically fix the country’s ethical, moral, economic and academic problems. Yet right there – at the heart of that confusing message, lies a foundational truth. Here it is: teachers resoundingly accept the challenge! No matter how extreme the challenge, teachers, here and across America, sense a guttural call to change the world - to lead by example and embrace social responsibility.

This week I proudly recognize Shelby County’s teachers. I hope our kids honor them. I hope our parents do too.


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