From Supt. Ricca: Pushing Past Discomfort to Positive Change

by | Apr 29, 2023

In the summer of 2004, My Wife and I were newlyweds. We were married in June, honeymooned on Little Palm Island, Fla., and returned to Chicago, where we lived. One of the things that My Wife wanted to do was change her name from her maiden name to my last name. It did not matter to me. When we met, I called her Gendron (and still do to this day), she married me, after all, so I did not care whether or not she changed her name. 

We thought about hyphenating our last names as part of our discussion. We both knew couples that had recently married and done that. The more we talked about it, hyphenating did not seem like the choice for us. In addition, we wondered what would happen if one of our future children married someone else with a hyphenated last name, and then that couple would be juggling four last names. It did not matter to me; I was simply over the moon that she married me. 

In the end, My Wife decided to change her last name to mine and made her maiden name her middle name. As we tried to figure out how one changes a legal name, I wondered why she had to change her name for me. It seemed old-fashioned and not in keeping with our values or the vows we had recently shared with each other. So I chose to change my middle name to her maiden name. 

After several missteps, we finally figured out that to change your name, you have to start with the Social Security Administration. Armed with all the appropriate documents, we began the process. We sat in the SSA office in downtown Chicago and waited for our number to be called. When it was our turn, we approached the window with the number that matched the one on our ticket. My Wife put her documents forward, explained that we got married, and she wanted to change her name. The clerk checked her documents, looked at her, and smiled. I put my documents forward and said, I’d like to change my name too. She looked at me quizzically and said, “You can’t do that.” 

After several minutes of back and forth, the young person behind the counter retreated to speak with a supervisor. After several more minutes of waiting, the clerk returned and sheepishly told me that I could indeed change my name. As a part of the apology, this individual said, “I’ve never had a man come to my counter and ask to change his name.” We appreciated the honesty, and almost nineteen years later, My Wife and I have the same middle name and the same last name. 

We are all creatures of habit, and change is hard for all human beings. I know change is hard for me. I love my morning routine because it’s my dogs and me. It’s coffee and quiet. For most of the year, it’s dark outside. Everyone else in my home is asleep, and I have time to think, reflect, focus, and work. I like my morning routine. 

The risk of being too comfortable is that we won’t be able to grow. That our comfort will hold us back from growing and changing. That we will be too comfortable, and that will prevent us from getting out of our own way to the opportunities for learning and growth. 

I can understand that this is particularly hard when it comes to education. We all remember our time in school and our favorite teachers, and most have a romanticized view of our education. It’s hard to understand how education has evolved and changed, even during my time as a professional. When I started teaching, I was using chalk and overhead projectors. In the last graduate school class I taught, papers were not submitted to me but instead were turned in via an online portal. I was uncomfortable with that, as for almost my entire career, I would grade actual papers using a purple pen as an homage to one of my favorite professors at Holy Cross. It was clunky for me at first, and it took me a while to get used to it, but ultimately, I graded all my work online without my trusted purple pen. 

Education has changed and is continuing to change. It is the nature of our work as we try to keep up with the needs of our students. We know so much more about how people learn, what impacts learning positively, and what challenges the learning process. We know so much more about teaching and learning, especially post-pandemic than we did just three years ago when the pandemic began. Our work in education is to continue pushing past our discomfort to better serve the students in front of us right now. As part of our Community Forums in March, I shared that there are some estimates that as many as half of the jobs our graduating class of 2023 from EGHS will have in their lifetime have yet to be created. That is staggering and impacts our work as educators, K-12.  

As we look to the future of education in East Greenwich Public Schools, I hope we can be inspired by the words of the late Robert F. Kennedy: “Some… see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were, and ask why not?”

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

Published 4/30/23

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