By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
Our work is about relationships.
That’s it. That’s the list.
I try to live by these words. I am at my best as a person, a husband, a father, and as a superintendent when these words are in the forefront of my mind. But as a human, life happens, and there are many times when I am not at my best, and I forget these words. Let me tell you about one of these moments that happened recently.
This past summer, I learned that someone in East Greenwich had contacted the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) asking questions about residency. After a quick check of my inbox and email folders, I realized that this person did not reach out to me or any EG team members with their questions. There were no specifics from RIDE about the circumstances, the family themselves, or the questions this individual had.
One of the portions of the superintendency that I like the least is dealing with residency issues. We have a reputation for excellence in education, with a Strategic Plan entitled “All Means All,” and I’m proud of the ways that we continue to improve and grow when it comes to teaching and learning. For all those reasons and more, I occasionally need to make a determination about whether or not a family is residing in East Greenwich, per the School Committee policy.
As I tried to wrap my mind around all the unknowns of this situation, it made the most sense to reach out to the individual who had contacted RIDE. It felt like this person was going over my head, instead of coming to me directly with questions. I pride myself on being approachable, open, and accessible to the EG community. With this in mind, I called the individual who contacted RIDE.
The conversation started off well enough. The individual brought me up to speed on the circumstances that necessitated them contacting RIDE. I had also done a fair amount of homework, figured out the family in question, and had some information about what was going on in their lives. I thought I had it figured out. And that’s when our discussion started to take a negative turn.
As it did, I forgot that our work is about relationships. As it did, I forgot that I pledged to stay curious, not judgemental. As it did, I just flat-out blew it.
I heatedly explained that it felt like this person was going over my head by not coming directly to me. This person responded that they wanted to have all the information before them when they first approached me to see if what they were asking was even possible. I took a breath, slowed down, and listened to what this person was saying. It made sense. That’s actually something I would do.
We both paused. “I am sorry,” I said. “I rushed to judgment. I can appreciate you wanted to get information ahead of time and then come to me.” And with that, we were back on the right track.
I shared my plan for how to handle the information I had, the information the individual had, and the reality of the family’s situation. What I proposed was reasonable, and the individual assured me they would have the family reach out to me to confirm the next steps. I apologized again and asked if I could buy this person a cup of coffee when school started back up again this fall.
This past week, we got that cup of coffee. I got a chance to learn more about this individual, look them in the eyes, shake their hands, and say, “I am sorry,” in person. To their credit, this person was gracious and accepted my apology (again). I’m grateful they did and gave me the opportunity to make up for my mistake so we both could move on.
All because of the three most important words.
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.