Guest Spot: Look at the child, not just the test scores

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Students in Ms. Salmaggi's class work with iPads Tuesday morning at Southold High School.
KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Students in Ms. Salmaggi’s class work with iPads in December at Southold High School.

I like to say good morning to our students. No, actually I love saying good morning to our students.

When I say this I mean to several hundred students as they arrive, and not a few as I may see them passing in the hall. It’s a simple act that has a powerful set of returns. Normally I greet the students who arrive by bus, but recently I took this simple act a step further and held the door open to those high school students who are dropped off, or who drive to school. They slowly trickled in at one of the entrances to our secondary building, perhaps surprised that the superintendent of schools was there to hold the door open and greet them with a smile.

At a time when budgets are straining, security of our public spaces are practicing lockdowns, lockouts, active shooter and evacuation drills, or as the pressure to perform on standardized tests ratchets up, it’s all the more important to demonstrate the importance of common decency and courtesy. The civility of our engagement with our youth is perhaps under the greatest strain of all.

Sure, I have many other pressing matters, all attenuated to the items that every school system must address. I must gather data to inform decisions that will impact the education of all students. But one set of data that I find important is to study the faces of our students, and to listen carefully to the tone of their disposition as they arrive at school to start a day of learning and growing.

Do they appear sad and withdrawn? Is there a sense of possibility and promise, a hopeful spirit filled with curiosity? To greet them early each morning is to get a glimpse into their hearts and souls. Some say good morning, others say hi, while others may still be a bit sleepy. There are those however, who have the demeanor of disengagement. Of the few hundred students that I greet, my mind wonders who is hurting inside.

Recently our school community had the misfortune of not seeing one of those faces entering our high school building. I am extremely pleased that our student is no longer missing.

The question still remains: How do we best prevent whatever hurt may be inside a young person’s heart that would keep them from coming to a safe place greeted with a smile, eager to journey down a path that respects them, stimulates their curiosity about life and leads them toward a better understanding of the world around them and their place within it? There are many pieces to such a complex puzzle.

The current zeal to rank, order, weed out, poke, prod and race to the top is no way to figure this out. Of this I’m sure.

Let’s take the time to be there, fully present, genuinely evaluating the whole child. Let’s start by everyone giving an unranked, non-rubric-scored, simple “good morning” each and every day that we have the good fortune to work in the company of children.

Mr. Gamberg is superintendent of Southold School District.