From the Superintendent: More Than 1 Week a Year

by | May 17, 2024

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

We celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week in East Greenwich Public Schools from Monday, May 6, through Friday, May 10. Our EGPS Parent Teacher Groups were tremendous. They had daily themes and spoiled our educators with snacks, meals, gifts, and notes. Allen Gammons, an East Greenwich High School graduate from the Class of 1984, bought the teachers and staff of EGPS a coffee and pastry on Friday, May 10. The Rhode Island Football Club is offering all educators complimentary tickets in May, along with an educator rate of $13 tickets for North Bleacher tickets this month. This kind of generosity is humbling. 

And I was reminded of the fact that a little over four years ago, as we struggled with the new reality of this ugly word COVID, Shonda Rhimes tweeted the following: 

I am NOT advocating that teachers need to make a billion dollars a year. No educator that I have ever encountered in my 28 years in this profession came to teach to make a lot of money. They all, every single one of them, did it to make a difference in the lives of children. Though speaking of money, I did come across a troubling statistic this past week. It is from the nonprofit Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. They charted the median return on investment for college majors (bachelor’s degrees, and it’s troubling (at best) when it comes to education. Here’s the graphic: 

Yes, bachelor’s degrees in education are dead last in return on investment. The only degree that fares worse is one in Fine Arts. So, per this research, you don’t want to be a teacher, and you definitely don’t want to be a teacher in music or art. This is discouraging for so many people that I know and love. 

How have we gone from Shonda Rimes’ tweet, when Covid was swirling around us, to the reality that it’s the worst return on investment? I don’t have all the answers, but I know that one week a year of appreciation will not solve this. There will always be a need for educators. Always. We are all a product of education. Every single one of us. Simply being a product of an educational system does not qualify one to judge (or these days) publicly shame educators on social media. That is akin to telling you that Nick DelVecchio cut my hair at his shop on Main Street last week, and you should feel welcome to sit in a barber chair in front of me while I take out my clippers and scissors. 

How do we move from appreciation to feeling valued? Again, I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer a concrete suggestion for our community: reach out to share when something goes right in your kiddo’s classroom. A note or an email is more than enough to express what you value about what is happening in EGPS. I can give you a recent example from my own professional life. 

I keep an email folder in my inbox called “Rainy Day.” This is a folder of messages from people sharing a kind word for my work. It’s for those moments when I’m overwhelmed or discouraged by the work of educational leadership. My go-to when I feel that way is to get into an early elementary classroom and get on the floor (I was a first grade teacher before going into leadership). If I can’t do that, I look through the Rainy Day email folder. Currently, the total number of messages in that folder is 33. 

In contrast, I received more than 870 messages on two weeks of medical leave. 

To be clear, I don’t want people writing to me. Instead, I’m challenging our community to write messages to our staff (any employee of EGPS) once a month during the school year to express how they value the work that we’re doing. If each parent with kiddos in our schools wrote one message a month (either physical or email) to someone stating how they valued their work in EGPS, that would move the needle from feeling appreciated to feeling valued. 

As I often do, I was talking about my idea for this week’s post with the people I share office space with. This week, it happened to be Bob Wilmarth, our director of facilities. He’s a man who has demonstrated care and stewardship over the buildings in EGPS for years. When I shared my thoughts about this week’s writing with him, he said, “Can’t we be kind to each other all year round, not just for a week?”

Truer words were never spoken. 

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

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