From the Superintendent: Vulnerable, Honest, Humble … Brave

by | Apr 12, 2024

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

I rarely get to speak to our teachers and paraeducators together outside of the first days we welcome them back in August. However, on Tuesday, April 2, I had that opportunity. It was Primary Day in Rhode Island, and on that day, we could not have teaching and learning for students, as Frenchtown Elementary was a polling place. We could have teaching and learning for adults, though. 

For professional development this year, we committed to “Back to Basics,” otherwise known as no new initiatives. The adults in our district were still feeling the pandemic’s ripple effects, and we did not want to increase their workload from a local perspective. We wanted to focus on relationships and ensure that our adults had the tools to keep all our students safe, welcomed, and included when they came to school. To that end, we welcomed Jetta Bernier from the Enough Abuse Campaign. Ms. Bernier presented some incredibly hard information to hear about the insidious nature of childhood sexual abuse. We needed to hear this (again) to make sure that EGPS adults can do everything possible to protect the children in our community. 

What we would hear that day was going to be stomach-turning at times. Before that was this opportunity to address all the people who do the work of teaching and learning in our district. It was not going to be easy. Fortunately, for me, I found some wisdom. Not from another person; from Winnie the Pooh: 

I shared two stories that morning of times I needed help, one of which happened this past February. I hold monthly office hours at each of our schools so that if there is something on the minds of our employees, they don’t have to go far to find me. As I settled in, a member of our staff knocked on the door and came in. After sitting down, this person shared that they had seen a social media post by a community member in EG about my thoughts on the draft calendar for next school year. 

After first asking if what they read on Facebook was true (which I appreciated!), and when I confirmed that it was, this person shared how upset my thinking had made them. The truth was we needed help with how to handle the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, in our draft calendar. The holiday begins at sundown on Wednesday, October 2, and concludes at nightfall on Friday, October 4. 

When we were thinking about which days we should have off to honor the holiday, I shared that given the choice, I was leaning toward Friday because I was concerned about attendance if we gave Thursday off. I thought that if we gave all EGPS families Thursday off for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, many would take Friday off as well. 

This person shared with me how important this holiday is to them and the observance of their religion. Further, the fact that I was thinking about attendance felt like I was diminishing the importance of their faith. So this person asked me to reconsider. 

This person was vulnerable. This person was honest. This person was humble. This person was brave. Without using the actual words, this person was asking for help. Without saying it out loud, I needed help. 

Had this person not come forward, more than likely, we would have gone ahead with my thinking on the draft calendar. This individual’s courage helped me to see the error of my ways and my failure to consider all perspectives. We will honor Rosh Hashanah on Thursday, October 3, 2024. 

In my personal and professional life, I cannot do it alone. I would offer that no one in East Greenwich can do it alone, either. We need each other to be our best selves for this entire community. 

We all need to be brave enough to ask for help. 

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

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