It is the beginning of the school year, and it is another opportunity for teachers, students, parents, grandparents, friends and businesses to “build our blueberries.” What in the world does that mean? The title of this edition of Ronnie comes from a story known as “the blueberry story” told in a book entitled, Schools Cannot Do It Alone, by Jamie Vollmer. The subtitle is Building Public Support for America’s Public Schools. I sat for a few minutes in the Mayor’s office and read it.
The “blueberry story” is a humbling tale told by Mr. Vollmer, wherein he endeavored to simplistically suggest to a group of teachers that adopting a standard business model for today’s schools is the answer to all their “production” problems. By way of context, Mr. Vollmer produces ice cream, and a teacher challenged him for using the analogy of the quality of blueberries shipped to the ice cream factory that ultimately will go into Mr. Vollmer’s product. The exchange went something like this:
“Mr. Vollmer, when….you see…those blueberries do not meet your triple A standards, what do you do?”
“I send them back.”
“That’s right! You send them back. We can never send back the blueberries our suppliers send us. We take them big, small, rich, poor, hungry, abused, confident, curious, homeless, frightened, rude, creative, violent, and brilliant. We take them of every race, religion, and ethnic background. We take them with head lice, ADHD, and advanced asthma. We take them with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, English as their second language, and who knows how much lead in their veins. We take them all, Mr. Vollmer! Every one! And that’s why it’s not a business. It’s school.”
To his credit, Jamie Vollmer has learned much since that exchange, and Ronnie has heard him speak. He has also spoken with Jamie briefly, and highly recommends the book for anyone in the private sector who wants to be a “triple A blueberry builder.”
After I read the “blueberry story,” Mayor Ronnie said, “Here’s what we have. On one hand, there is a kid named Ryan who got a 35 on his ACT and would have liked to have done better, and on the other, we have kids for whom school is the best part of the day. So the question is, ‘How do we build our blueberries?’”
We discussed the fact that from some quarters, teachers are being asked to be the parents, provide apprenticeships, and essentially function as the cook, the counselor, and the coach. They are spread thin, and, as the book title reiterates, “Schools can’t do it alone.” We need to “build our blueberries” if we want to leave our town in good shape after we are long gone.
We talked some about the role of businesses as Partners in Education, and he said, “I am so glad they are involved.” However, what he wanted to convey the most is “how much we appreciate our teachers.” He has been in the classroom, and so have I, but it was a long time ago, and it was not with the kinds of challenges our teachers are facing today.
“I am especially thankful for the role the Dr. Sisk and Dr. Holladay and the School Boards have had with the new Career Technical Center,” he said. “They are creating an atmosphere for success.” He also talked about the fact that the year was fresh, and the students are excited. “I feel good about our schools,” he said.
We both know that there is always room to improve them, and to that end we prayed. Then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner