Readers’ Voice

Joe Tarala, left, receives his 14 gallon pin from K of C Blood Drive Coordinator Frank Wunderlich. Photo courtesy of Knights of Columbus

Superintendent calls for community unity behind mission of Paw Paw Public Schools

 

Dear Paw Paw Community Members,
   The Mission of Paw Paw Public Schools is to Develop, Support, Challenge and Inspire Every Child for Lifelong Success. This statement speaks directly to our purpose as a school district. For it to hold any true meaning, it must serve as a guide that directs the actions, behaviors, policies and practices of school personnel and other stakeholders for ensuring we serve ALL Paw Paw students.
   Utilizing a Mission Statement as a guide to behaviors and actions makes complete sense for directing our school district to realize its core purpose, but it’s not an easy process. With this in mind, I would like to address circumstances surrounding our school district’s nickname, the Paw Paw Redskins, and what it means for the school district in carrying out its Mission.
   In February of 2017, after several months of studying whether to remain the Paw Paw Redskins or adopt a new nickname and mascot, and hearing from people both inside and outside the school and broader Paw Paw community, the Board of Education elected to “fully reinstitute the Redskin name and imagery”.
   At the time of the Board vote, my primary connection to Paw Paw Public Schools was that two of my children were attending Paw Paw High School and another was attending Paw Paw Middle School. I had also been a longtime community member but was not yet employed by the district.
   While the debate caused me to personally reflect on the use of the term “Redskins” and why it may be objectionable to some, it was clear the word had different meanings in different contexts. I knew then as I know now that, at least in some contexts, use of that term can be quite offensive. But in the context of “We are the Paw Paw Redskins!”, I have never believed it was meant to degrade, belittle or promote hatred against Native Americans. I firmly believe that nearly a century ago, when the decision was made by our school district to adopt the name “Redskins”, it was done so out of respect and with the intent to honor and celebrate the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans.
   As such, it made sense to me in February 2017 that Paw Paw should remain the Redskins. I believe that school board members had similar reasons for choosing to keep the name and mascot rather than pursuing a less controversial alternative.
   Since being hired to work in Paw Paw Public Schools in 2018, spending one year as high school principal and now finishing my eighth month as superintendent, my perception on the use of the Redskin nickname has changed. It’s not that the term has taken on any different meaning for me - that has not changed at all. But I have witnessed the division this issue has caused among the people of our school district and community. More importantly, this has had a negative impact on some, but not all, of our students.
   While I respect the opinions of individuals unaffiliated with our school district who find the nickname objectionable, I do not view their objections as sufficient cause for changing our nickname. However, if we have students walking our halls who are uncomfortable with our Redskin nickname, who cannot share in the school pride and spirit we want all students to have, who are divided from classmates because of the very thing that’s supposed to bring students together, then I think we need to question whether holding onto the nickname is the right thing to do.
   In my view, this debate hinges on one question central to our Mission: How does remaining the Paw Paw Redskins impact current, prospective and future students of Paw Paw schools? I think everyone can agree a school’s nickname and mascot should be something every student can feel proud of celebrating, cheering about and rallying around. It’s sad to hear a student say, “I won’t ever be proud to be a Paw Paw Redskin.” But this is the reality we now face. These are good kids - our kids - who are feeling unheard and left out in their own school. This is unacceptable.  
   There have been multiple instances over the past few years, some very recent, in which awful things have been said about, and directed at, our students related to our nickname. For this, I blame no one except those who made the choice to utter those words. However, Paw Paw students should never be subjected to such treatment, especially for something as simple as showing up to an athletic event to compete or cheer on one of our teams. We cannot continue supporting a position that allows and/or encourages this to happen.
   Our nickname is preventing us from realizing our true potential as a school that welcomes, celebrates, supports and challenges all students.
   Because I feel it is the right thing to do for our students, I am planning to bring a proposal to the Board of Education at the March regular meeting asking the Board to approve a resolution to retire the Redskin nickname for Paw Paw Public Schools at the end of this school year. This meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 9, at our Cedar Street Campus media center.
   I am convinced the people of Paw Paw want us to be a unified school and community. This does not mean everyone has to agree on all topics. It does mean we need to agree our school district must welcome ALL students. We will not accept a position that leaves kids vulnerable to feeling or being excluded, alienated or targeted for something entirely beyond their control.
   While I understand people in our school and community hold varying opinions on this topic, I respectfully ask for everyone’s support in helping make this transition for our school district for the betterment of our current and future students.
   Please understand that I am not recommending that we retire our Redskin nickname because it is inherently bad or because of objections outside our district. I would like us to retire the Redskin nickname for the reasons I’ve stated, in support of our students and Mission. I also feel it is important for this to be done in a very respectful manner to honor our history. My pledge is to assure this is handled respectfully, should my proposal be accepted by the Board.
   I’m certain there are those who have questions or would like the opportunity to be heard on this topic. I invite PPPS staff members, students, parents and community members to an open forum on Tuesday, March 3, at 6:30 p.m. Those who want to attend must RSVP by Feb. 28 at www.ppps.org. The location of the forum is yet to be determined.
   I will be present at the forum, along with Paw Paw Director of Curriculum and Instruction Corey Harbaugh and Board President Brent McNitt, to field questions and listen to feedback from the community we serve. We will stay as long as necessary to assure everyone has the opportunity to be heard.
   Sincerely,
   Rick Reo
   PPPS Superintendent

•••

 

Dear Editor,
   The American Red Cross blood drive last Wednesday at the Paw Paw Lions club was successful. The goal was set at 48 pints and 60 people came to donate. Ten were unsuccessful for one reason or another, leaving us with 50 pints, which could help up to 150 people in need.
   Donors reaching mile stone levels were Joe Tarala (pictured here), 14 gallons; Tim Griffin, 11 gallons; Bill Zolp, three gallons; and Frank Whitworth, one gallon.  Kudos to the work crew, cookie bakers, sandwich makers, and floor workers, but especially, THANK YOU to the 60 people who came out to donate the “gift of life”. 
   Next drive at which you will be eligible to donate in Paw Paw will be April 8, at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
   See you there.
   Frank Wunderlich
   Blood Drive Coordinator

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