An attitude of reflection

LUSK – It is with great pleasure that I am here this evening, I can’t begin to explain how exciting it is for me to be the honored guest at this function. Please bear with me when I tell you how impressed I have been through the years by the alumni association board and the work they do year after year. It is truly amazing and to my knowledge one of the only groups to hold a major reunion every single year honoring the classes from that year and every ten years previous as well as the classes from the 5 year splits as this year they are honoring all the classes ending with 2 and 7. My friends it is a massive undertaking and has been carried on for years. My hat is off to the alumni association and its board for that work. As a 25 year administrator in the district it has been my privilege to see the group in action over and over. So I thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart for your selection of me as your honored guest, a bit more to follow, but first I need to introduce some people and share a couple of stories.

No one becomes an honored guest on their own and of their own merits it takes a village as the saying goes and my village has been a wonderful collection of characters from family, friends, colleagues, students and yes nay sayers. The first person who has supported me through all my journeys is my mother, Pegge Thompson, who by the way graduated from Savery High School in 1943,and she isn’t able to be here tonight but she assures me that she is here in spirit . Second is the person who seemingly was always there in the background usually not receiving her share of the accolades but she has been by my side as my wife and the mother of our children for 52 years now. Laura  Luchsinger please stand and be recognized. You are probably noticing a theme here and yes the old adage of behind every successful man is a good woman-well in this case it is 5 good women, the other three are our daughters Amanda, Ali and Ashley, the A team, and all are Niobrara County Alumni and proud of it. While our family was the five of us and I was severely outnumbered the girls have married young men who have become the sons I never had and they have been marvelous, Phil, Tanner and David and Tanner of course is a Niobrara County Alum. They help me keep my sanity as we move forward. We also have 8 grand children 7 boys and one girl. They are the apples of our eye for sure. 

So that is the family village system that has helped me so much through the years, but remember there is a village composed of many people and one of the most important lessons I ever learned in life was...Always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and then listen to them....does you no good if you don’t listen. I tried to always have smart people around me and then I listened to what they said, doesn’t mean you always do everything they say but that is what usually happens because one figures out rather quickly that not listening and following through does not breed success. 

So how did we get here and how do I cause you to think, to go from here saying I really hadn’t thought of that at all or at least for a while. I would like nothing better than to cause you to reflect. Reflection is almost a lost art and it is a skill in our tool box that must be used and honed for us to grow as human beings.

When Ryan called to tell me that I had been selected, I was in my mother’s words gobsmacked and at the same time realized what an honor this was so I was excited and enthusiastic and then Ryan uttered these words, “you will have to give a speech”. He probably thought I had had a stroke or something worse but when I recovered, I asked how long. He said 15-30 minutes and I laughed. No one at an event like this wants to hear a speaker talk for 30 minutes so we compromised and I will try to be relatively brief as I know everyone of you wants to get on with the party.

My career began in Kaycee, Wyoming where I was the 7-12 English teacher, and I loved teaching English at all those levels, but I soon figured out that I was not as well prepared for the classroom as I had thought and that was the first big lesson, Never think you have arrived because you always have room to grow and to become better at what you do. I taught English for 13 years in three different schools and loved to teach students to write and one can only learn to write by writing so my students wrote a lot. The other thing I developed a love of was poetry and thus I always start and/or end all my talks with poems. They are sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious but always as poetry is want to do, should be a gentle prod for some thinking and learning. Tonight’s poem is a bit silly but says exactly what many of us older folks feel about new things that bombard us nearly everyday. It is entitled, Smart phone.

My new phone is “smart.” I guess that I’m not.

Amazing what all this here smart phone has got.

TV and Weather and Internet, too.

There’s just no limits to what it can do.

Check my blood pressure and my temperature

Without even probing all my apertures.

I now know the time in Paris or Greece

I can track the migration of thousands of geese

Oops, my finger just slipped, now where was that at?

A camera...a camera. Now I can take shots

Of everyone I know (who’d rather I not).

Push this here button and take me a “selfie.”

(If it had a nose would this thing take a “smellfie”?)

Email to pester with, video to shoot,

Maps to drive ‘round with, wow that’s a hoot.

A compass to guide me home if I’m lost.

Thank God work paid for this thing (what it costs.).

The things that it does would amaze Mr. Bell.

What he would have thought of it, no one can tell,

But one question’s still stuck in my middle-aged craw.

Despite all the gizmos that strike me with awe

They’re fun and they’re useful and “techy” and all

But how do I just simply make a phone call?


Okay so we listened to a poem and laughed a little maybe thought anyone with that problem is a little strange or maybe I feel exactly the same, but what did we learn? For one thing we learned after reflection that technology isn’t the problem, our attitude toward it is the problem. New ideas and things are not the problem it is our attitude toward them that is the problem. Our attitude what a novel idea. But I have digressed or have I? 

The one sure thing that I figured out through those years of teaching was that the students always taught me more than I taught them. It is truly amazing but most teachers at some point come to that strange fact. But it is not so strange as you think about surrounding your self with good, smart people. Students are are both good at heart and smart. We should listen to them and learn from them. 

I have said to many students “I still like you and know the good things you can do but I don’t like what you did and we have to find a way to change behavior so it doesn’t happen again” Students need to know they are liked and part of the solution just as adults do.  As alumni you know how important it is to keep coming back to your friends to share the goodness and their innate ability to raise your spirits. Good People who are smart and caring, who take the time to reflect and to help others grow however that is, technology included. 

But like all good things I thought I needed a change and decided to become an administrator. Most of my friends thought I had lost my mind because I really didn’t have a great impression of administration at the time. I kept thinking there has to be a better way to do this admin thing and so I worked on my degree and ended up getting a 7-12 job in Fairplay, Colorado. 

It was a great place to begin but I really wanted to be in Wyoming so first chance I got I applied in Wyoming and I was lucky enough to be selected at the high school Principal here in Lusk. I told Laura, It seems like a nice community and has good schools and if we don’t like it, it will be a good resume builder. So we moved our three little girls to Lusk to begin an odyssey that would last 25 years in Niobrara County School District.

It did not take long for me to realize what a lucky man I was to have been selected as the Principal of Niobrara County High School. The quality of the staff and student body was very apparent and they both wanted to learn and grow and so we grew together. Now I began to realize the power of reflection and of taking the time to stop and think about what I was doing and how I could do it better. I had two ingredients for success, a need to reflect and good honest hard working people. Did we mess up at times? Absolutely, but we didn’t point fingers or try to pass the blame, we learned from the mistake, corrected what could be corrected and moved on to the next task at hand. It wasn’t the thing that was the problem it was our attitude. 

Darn, that attitude word keeps showing up, maybe it has some importance. I learned rather quickly that going to staff and saying, the sup or the board say we have to do this or that, did not go over well so I would say we need to raise scores and how to we go about that. Staff want to be a part of the solution and will work extra hard on a project if they have input in its inception and how the work will go. 

Again, good people and boy do we have good people in Niobrara County. Just look around you at the folks assembled here this evening and marvel at all the talent and leadership. I wonder how many careers paths are represented here this evening and to think they all have their roots in Niobrara County.

After eight very good years as the Principal of Niobrara County High School our Superintendent retired and the board asked me if I would become the next Superintendent. Following a conversation with Laura, we decided that it would be a good thing and so I said yes, but I wanted to tell the staff at the high school before it was announced to the public. 

Most of the staff were excited for me, but they all worried about who would follow me as Principal of NCHS. The funniest comments came about me deserting them for the “black hole”, as we had always called the district office the black hole where things, ideas, people all kinds of stuff went but never returned. We had a good laugh and I assured them we would have good open communication and things would be fine. A wise young woman,  Amy Rosenthal, said “Pay attention to the things you pay attention to.” Wow, pay attention to the things you pay attention to… what a way to practice reflection. 

After my move across the street we decided we had to pay attention to the communication between the DO and the buildings so I set out to meet personally with every single staff member. I met with teaching staff, secretaries, janitors, aides and anyone else who wanted to visit with me. In a small district this is much easier than in a large one but it took most of July and part of August to get everyone scheduled. At those meetings I asked three questions 1) What is good about the District? 2) What could be improved in the District? and 3) What else would you like to tell me?

We had great conversations and in the items I had a manageable list of what was good and what needed to improve. Pay attention to what you are paying attention to. After this process there are almost always some quick easy fixes to perceived problems so that buys you time and you are off and running.

What do you think the overwhelming majority of staff thought was good about the District? You would be correct if you said the people. Yes there is again good people who only want to do good things for students and other staff. We were so lucky to have so many of these people on board. Now we had to let them do their good work and to listen to them. And as I said before every answer cannot be yes but we worked through the problems and tried to hear all voices at all times. I think if people know you will at least listen they can live with an occasional no. 

There were many accomplishment during the 17 years I was Superintendent but with out a good attitude, great people and reflection none of it would have been possible. 

I am going to close with a couple of short quotes as I revert to the English Teacher still hiding inside. The first is from William Shakespeare and it seems as if he had a quote for just about anything we face today, He was truly an amazing person. In one of his missives he said:

“I always feel happy. You know Why? Because I don’t expect anything from anyone. Expectations always hurt. Life is short. So love your life.  Be happy and keep smiling. Just live for your self and before you speak, listen. Before you write, think. Before you pray, forgive, before you hurt, feel, before you hate, love, before you quit, try, before you die, live, yes live.”

And finally from a renowned person of our time, Elton John, “Live for each second without hesitation.” Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the honor you have bestowed upon me this evening and congratulations to all the alumni here this evening. Have a great time, enjoy the festivities, and be safe.

Thank you


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