When I became the superintendent of Duquesne City School District in March 2018, some asked me why I would want to take on such a challenging job. I had a young daughter and this new job required that I pick up and move across the state. During the interview process, I felt confident and comfortable that I could see a productive path forward for the students, the educators, the parents, and the community.
I quickly learned the heart of the Duquesne community was the school district. In 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Education identified Duquesne as financially distressed, placing the district under state receivership. Duquesne is a small district located just outside of Pittsburgh. The student enrollment is 430, spanning grades K-7, and 100% of the students receive free breakfast and lunch. The district has had its share of past challenges, but with the support of the staff and the community, I was determined to change this narrative.
Once I got my foot in the door I quickly realized that the talent was all there. The right people were just not in the right places. With their guidance and support, I was able to shift some things around and dramatic changes began to occur. I just needed to listen to them and understand where they were coming from. I began to wonder what I could do to make life better for the students, the educators, and the parents.
Having grown up close to the legendary and beloved Fred Rogers’ hometown of Pittsburgh, I have always been a fan of the Fred Method and feel so lucky to have found the book When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids.
There are so many lessons and learnings to be gained from the book; I decided to give every teacher in my district their own copy on Teacher Appreciation Day. I hand-delivered each copy, but I could not have known the impact this gesture would have on these educators. One teacher broke down into tears. She had heard about the book and was so moved that I would give them all this gift.
I already knew a lot about the way Mister Rogers’ built his neighborhood, but what I soon learned was that the people in the school community were already using the Fred Method in our own Duquesne neighborhood.
Mister Rogers and I agree on a great many things, including that there are many ways to say I love you. “All of us long to hear that we are accepted as we are,” said Rogers. Every day I see teachers, students, and families showing love in countless different ways. It reminds me of the social media trend that asks you to share something without actually saying the words. Here are some examples:
- A student fist-bumping their teacher when they arrive at school or are successful.
- A teacher sending a note to a parent to say “I noticed your child did something great today.”
- A student smiling at another student just because they look down or upset.
- Asking someone “what’s good?” instead of just “what’s wrong?”
- A teacher and paraprofessional dancing with the students as they enter the classroom.
- Students checking in with a mentor or a previous teacher to just start the day or end the day on a positive and loving note.
While some of these love gestures could seem small or insignificant, believe me: they make a world of difference in a person’s life.
Mister Rogers’ reminded us that “love is at the root of everything.” As we honor teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, I encourage you to think of the many different ways you can show love to the educators in your community.
Dr. Sue Mariani is a dynamic, self-motivated educator with more than 23 years of experience in public education who always puts the needs of her students first. Since 2018, she has served as superintendent of schools at the Duquesne City School District.
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