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Wrestling, Education & the Reality of Politics

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The Board of Education presented its budget to the Board of Finance this week as a standing room only crowd listened. In support of the budget, I talked about the BEHS 2017 state champion wrestling team as an example of success. The lesson was not about sports, but about the members of this team which mirror every Bristol classroom – from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds, honor roll students, students with special ed plans, and English as Second Language students.  

On a Friday night in December, just as the season was underway, 4th ranked Newtown came to King Street. Bristol Eastern had never beaten Newtown and as the night unfolded, it became clear that this might change. My sophomore wrestler was the last match that night, as the team score stood at 36-36.

As I looked around the gym I was amazed to see the number of teachers, administrators, alumni, and support staff at school during a vacation week standing and cheering, along with members of the community who follow the sport. After  a very long 6 minutes, Bristol Eastern had 3 additional team points on the board, for a 39-36 victory.

As the gym grew louder, I noticed one of the custodial staff kneeling on the far edge of the mat, cheering as the clock wound down. Talking about the match later, I mentioned to my son how nice it was for this gentleman to be so supportive, and that he should thank him. “Why,” he asked. “He’s my friend and always watches the matches.”

My two observations from that night are this – my son, a young varsity wrestler, was able to succeed that night, for himself and his team – because of the preparation and work he put in for the last 10 years as a member of the Gladiators travel team where he wrestled from kindergarten to 8th grade. He knew what he had to do, had practiced it, had it reinforced by coaches, and learned from his mistakes.

All of that culminated with an important victory that night. Likewise teachers  have the critical job of building that foundation for student success, from kindergarten through middle school, and into high school and beyond. Would he have been able to operate as well in a pressure cooker situation if he had not had 10 years of solid teaching and learning behind him? Probably not.

The second lesson is that it takes a village and over the years, we have invested to attract the best teachers and staff. I think it is worth it and I don’t understand why it is so popular to make the BOE budget the enemy.

Whether it is the administrators who are tracking the many state and federal requirements that are a large part of the budget, or the cafeteria moms and janitors, to the paras helping children get ahead in the classrooms, we should all be the cheering fan section for Bristol education because we are all on the education team, whether you have kids in the schools or not.

To sneer that the budgets are fat, or salaries too high is cowardly. To ask questions about a $1,000 expenditure in a $114 million dollar budget is poor leadership.  To spout alternative facts on social media instead of reading -and understanding – the actual budget request is the same as being the obnoxious parent who gets escorted out of the gym for bad behavior.

To think that it is fine to be ranked 111th out of 116 school districts is embarrassing. None of these contribute to investing in a winning team.

The success of the schools is the most important marketing tool we have and its teachers, staff, and coaches are making it happen every day.

The budget process should not be adversarial. We are all on the same team and while we may have different strategies, at the end of the day, competition and who has the upper hand should stay on the wrestling mat, while collaboration and teamwork should be the rule for the discussions we are having about community success.

Ellen Zoppo-Sassu

Bristol

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