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After the final comments were made by a member of the North Stonington Board of Selectmen one week ago today, it gave me cause to reflect while on my ride home.
One could find a thousand reasons as to why to not do a building project. Then it reminded me of what a visionary leader is and my commitment to being one. I grew up in the 1960s and will always remember Bobby Kennedy, who strayed away from traditional myopic political views, stating, "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?"
A present day successful entrepreneur, Jim Rohn, once wrote, "If you are not willing to risk the usual you will have to settle for the ordinary." After officially assuming the position of superintendent in my former district several years ago, I immediately inherited a deficit of $9 million, which we were required to pay back to the city.
Assuming that debt and at the same time trying to support the current year's budget was a daunting task. Every time I interviewed a prospective administrator, I would remind him or her of our situation and ask, "Given the current state of affairs that you undoubtedly read or heard about, why would you want to leave where you are and come to work with us?"
In their responses, I was looking for positive people, people who were willing to work in the trenches side by side with us to solve the problem, despite the obstacles. If I may take the liberty of a WWII slogan, "CAN DO!"
The school building project has been on the town's radar for at least 12 years. Every time it comes up for consideration it seems there is a reason to delay. Over the years there have been differences of personal opinions and of political views, bad economies, environmental concerns and four years ago the collapse of a bridge. It seems as though the time is never right.
In my years of experience, I'm not sure that there ever is a good time for a major capital expenditure. What I can state is that putting something aside will not make the need go away and the cost will only accelerate exponentially in the future. If the same building project was approved four years ago, we probably would have saved up to several million dollars.
Most importantly, our students would already have the benefit of the facilities.
More importantly than the dollars and cents, we risk, as Rohn states, that we will be committed to the ordinary. Getting back to my former position, the deficit reduction plan that we developed will pay the loan off next year. My hope is that the qualities I was searching for, and continue to search for, in my administrators - leaders who despite the obstacles look for solutions and do not settle for the ordinary - also exist in all North Stonington's appointed and elected officials.
Visionary leadership will attract the type of residents in the future who realize that our commitment to education is not ordinary, but instead a slight variation of the vernacular - extraordinary!
Peter Nero is the North Stonington superintendent of schools. Townspeople vote today on whether to approve the $47 million school renovation project.