The Gift

Occassionally, a gift drops in a Principal’s lap. Last spring I received a call from a parent who had been checking out local playgrounds and with no maliciousness whatsoever, he stated that his family felt that the Harold Martin School playground was lacking and it was time for an upgrade. It is typical, although perhaps not admirable, that I was already hatching an answer for this fine father as he was talking:

Yes, you are correct, the playground is 22 years old, and we have had a playground committee working on this problem for many years. You see, we did enlarge the area by cutting down some trees, we added a sandbox and we installed new swings a few years back….

Before I had a chance to justify our playground re-building efforts, this fine gentlemen literally offered to pay for the cost of building a new playground. Building my defense certainly proved to be a waste of time as my next problem was controlling my glee enough that I maintained my professionalism. He was also assertive in demanding that his gift remain anonymous.

Not long after, he and his wife met with the Superintendent and me and nicely suggested that it would be advantageous to have the playground done before the snow flies.  While I tend to be an optimistic bloke, this idea seemed out of reach.

However, as I sit here writing on the eve of our first potential snowfall here in New Hampshire, we have finished placing the last wood chips on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and the playground was officially opened two weeks ago. On that morning, I gathered the school community together and after some brief words from me, the entire school yelled out move those buses! to reveal the sizeable new playground structure. Thanks to Federal stimulus money and other donati

ons we were also able to build a new baseball field and a smaller playground for the younger folk. The Hopkinton, NH community now possesses a state of the art outdoor complex thanks to one major donor, many other generous donors, and volunteer work from scores of parents and community members.

Since offer to completion only took a few months, I’ve had little time to reflect on what ended up being a $125,000 project with no local tax money. Here are some lessons learned from this experience:

  • Surround yourself with experts. I asked a local engineer in town to be Chair of our Playground Committee and he had the vigor and knowledge to make the project his own. Another important member of our committee is a retired engineer who helped build a community playground in Hopkinton. He also has grandkids in my school.
  • Form an inclusive committee; better yet, form a task force. I know committee can be a dirty word as so many committee efforts can end in frustration. Yet, energy can be infused easily into a committee when you have a diverse group made up of people who care about the purpose of the venture. In reality, the best committees are task forces where the eventual goal is finite so that everyone knows that there will be an end.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of passion and adrenaline. Think back to the times when actions of substance were completed in your life. So often, it took a rush of great energy and “sticktoitness” to complete a task that seemed gargantuan. There are times when everything aligns and it’s time to jump in. A leader has to count the cost, but if one has political capital to spend and the risk vs. reward ratio seems positive, the opportunity is probably too great to pass up.
  • The sum is truly greater than its parts. This is the theme forwarded by our Superintendent this year. As Steve and I sat on top of the large structure, surveying the amazing transformation of our playground on the final work Saturday, we realized that the synergy that exists between like-minded people is a power that cannot be overestimated.

To check out pictures of our new playground, head to our web site at: http://bit.ly/fcBY4c

I hope you’ll check out my blog at billcarozza.com. Catch me on Twitter at @wcarozza.

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7 comments for “The Gift

  1. December 6, 2010 at 3:08 am

    Thanks for sharing some great lessons learned.

    Now, move those buses because I want to come play.

    • December 9, 2010 at 2:58 am

      Hey Larry-it was fun to be like that ADHD guy on Extreme Home Makeover. Got to have fun as a Principal!

      Bill

  2. Jennifer L
    December 6, 2010 at 4:08 am

    It’s not unusual these days for someone to make some kind of criticism about what school facilities lack, but it’s rare that the next words are: “Here’s how I want to help.” What a fantastic, generous parent–and kudos to the members of the task force for planning and organization.

    Congratulations on having strong community supporters who know kids need more than mental growth.

    • December 9, 2010 at 2:58 am

      Hi Jennifer:

      I am very blessed to work in such a supportive community! Been waiting 11 years for this sort of gift.

      Bill

  3. December 6, 2010 at 4:16 am

    What a truly special gift! How exciting for you, your students, and your community! Thanks so much for sharing Bill!

    • December 9, 2010 at 3:01 am

      Hi Janet:

      Thanks for the kind words. One of the toughest things is not slipping up and mentioning their name as they want to be kept anonymous. :)

      Bill

  4. Monica Calligaro
    December 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    School facilities will never satisfy everyone. Some department or groups or students will love what is available and some will want more or different than is. Fundraiser and donations are the way to go.

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