Celebrating success

by William Miller

On Board Online • February 19, 2018

William Miller
NYSSBA President

Like many others, I have always admired Olympic athletes. Earning a spot on the Olympic roster is an incredible achievement, one that requires hard work, sacrifice and perseverance.

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games are now underway in PyeongChang, South Korea. Some of our Olympic athletes graduated from New York State public schools, and you can read about them in this issue of On Board. I know I will certainly be cheering for them.

Not long after the Olympic Games end, another set of world class athletes will compete in PyeongChang as part of the Paralympic Games. Here, you will see outstanding athletes who have lost arms and legs, have muscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy, or possess some form of disability.

Perhaps because I am drawn to the underdog, I find the stories of Paralympic athletes particularly inspiring. And, as with our Olympic athletes, you don't have to look far to find a connection to New York State public schools.

Luke McDermott, a member of the U.S. Sled Hockey team, is a 2005 graduate of the Greenville Central School District in Greene County, located south of Albany. While serving in the Marines in 2010, McDermott lost both his legs below the knee after a vehicle he was riding in hit a bomb in Afghanistan. After the incident, Luke started playing sled hockey, which is similar to ice hockey except that participants sit on sleds that have two blades underneath. He will be participating at this year's Paralympic Games.

We can look around our own school districts and see inspiring stories of students who are beating the odds to succeed - whether they come from a disruptive home life, struggle with their school work or just haven't yet found their niche.

I think developing youth is all about helping individuals pursue their dreams, whether that's going to college, starting a business, working 9 to 5 or becoming an athlete in the Olympics (or Paralympics).

As school board members, we are part of an institution that can and does transform lives. Our decisions matter. We provide life-changing opportunities by funding an art or music program, fielding an interscholastic sports team, adopting a career or technical education program or embracing new ideas for integrating technology into the classroom and empowering students to guide their own learning.

Maddie Phaneuf is a good example of how early opportunities can lead to future destinies. Maddie graduated from the Town of Webb Union Free School District in Old Forge. While there, she participated on the district's cross-country skiing team, which no doubt contributed to helping her attain the lofty goal of participating on the Olympic Biathlon team.

Would Maddie have realized her Olympic dreams if the school board had cut the cross-country skiing team from its budget?

Another Olympian, luge racer Erin Hamlin, graduated from the Remsen school district in central New York.

In the final analysis, a successful school is not a set of programs but a group of caring adults. I never discount the role that one person can play in helping to transform the lives of others. Sometimes, maybe all a board member needs to do is provide support and encouragement to a teacher, administrator or student to help them achieve their goal.

Right now, our public schools are filled with future Olympians, inventors, political and business leaders, artists, writers and scientists. Also, they are full of individuals who, like Luke McDermott, will turn adversity into opportunity.

Over the next few weeks, as we celebrate the accomplishments of our Olympic and Paralympic teams in PyeongChang, we should take time to celebrate the individual victories achieved by the students and employees in our district. Like any Olympic team, our schools are filled with inspirational people whose success is based on hard work, perseverance and the will to succeed despite adversity. This is truly why every child does matter.

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