At the start of the final day of school for 2020-21, and my final school day as your superintendent, I am writing to acknowledge the incredible work we have all done together for our students, our community and each other over the past 16 months as we navigated the uncharted waters of a global pandemic.

I am also deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to be superintendent of the South Portland schools for the past six years. While I will be working up until June 30, and will be available to support superintendent Timothy Matheney in any way that I can after that as he begins to serve this wonderful district, you probably guessed that I could not let this final school day pass without sharing a few thoughts.

Tiny Art Room Collaborative Mural, South Portland High School. Courtesy image

Actually, I have three quotes to share that are pulled from a recent South Portland High School student survey of the school year – and also a creation from some young artists. Separately they communicate the range of emotions we experienced through this tumultuous time. Taken together, they add to the tapestry of understanding of our time together, a tapestry we have woven thread by thread.

This year was a challenge for all and frankly unbearable for some. As one student noted, “School caused so much stress that it wasn’t actually helpful.”

Still, we listened to the worries expressed by our students, families and staff with open minds and open hearts and together tried to meet the challenges. We celebrated our successes, lamented the failures and kept trying to find better ways.

A thought repeated in many different ways by students in the survey showed that we did in fact find some better ways. This student put it best when they wrote, “I also want to thank all the staff for working extra hard when they could have just as easily given up. It was a hard time for everyone and for everyone’s effort I am eternally grateful.”

Staff, parents and caregivers all modeled persistence in the face of difficulty, teaching a lesson that will serve our students well in their future.

The final quote from a student is one I know I will take with me to support me in my future. As young people sometimes can, it conveys a simple wisdom to guide their elders. The student asks us to, “Learn to value what is there instead of finding flaws in life, because our luck is the desire of thousands.”

To me, “valuing what is there” means holding what we have dear and through our efforts strive to make it better and to ensure that all have access to the benefits and opportunities we can provide. To you, the quote may mean something different, but if we are educating young people to be this thoughtful and reflective, we are doing OK, and perhaps even better than OK.

Finally, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, but how many words is it worth when that picture is created by over 300 students directing the paintbrush of their artist teacher?

See the picture created by this Tiny Art Room Collaborative Mural to decide for yourself. To view the mural, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJ791eg7meI.

With deep appreciation and profound thanks.

Ken Kunin is superintendent of schools for South Portland. He can be reached at [email protected]

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