Happy New Year

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

January 12, 2015

Dear SAISD Staff,

Happy New Year!

Have you read any good books lately?  As members of the SAISD Team, we all know that we are steadfast in focusing on literacy in our district. Yes, reading and writing for our students, but also for adults.

Like it or not, all employees and adults serve as role models. (No matter what Charles Barkley thinks.) This is one reason why we continue to provide and expand adult literacy centers, parental engagement, Fathers in Action, mentoring, education foundation opportunities and other initiatives that involve adults as role models.

So, have you read any good books lately? Have you demonstrated to young people the joy and deep inner feelings that one can only experience by reading.

During the holidays I had time to read a couple of great inspirational books: Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, and The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown.

Of course, Unbroken has been a box-office hit, and I had the opportunity to watch it. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini, a once-troubled youth who smoked and drank at a very young age, finding his God-given talent as a track runner through the prodding and tough love provided by an older brother.

Louie became an overachiever, and at Torrance High School in California set many records, ultimately earning a scholarship at the University of Southern California. In 1936, he ran in the Olympics and recorded the fastest time by any American in the 5,000-meter run.

But the story of Louie Zamperini, and what he is truly most noted for, are his experiences in the Army Air Corps in World War II.  After being shot down in the Pacific Ocean, Louie survived over 40 days at sea, only to be “rescued” by the enemy. He endured months of abuse, torture and starvation.

His story is one of faith, perseverance, courage and loyalty to members of his teams, squads and the mission.

Interestingly, The Boys in the Boat is a story set in the same era of American history. The story centers around the eight-member University of Washington rowing team that competed in the 1936 Olympics.

One of the common themes of this era is the impact of the Great Depression and how it shaped Americans of that time, perhaps hardening the citizenry and preparing our nation for the hard times ahead in WW II.

The finely crafted boat, the synchronization of the oarsmen, all working as a single unit where one individual must make a personal commitment that he is never more important than the other seven members of the crew. It reminds the reader that we can have all of the physical qualities to be successful, but ultimately, it’s the power of the mind and inner spirit that propel us to be the best we can possibly be.  

The book follows the true-life story of Joe Rantz, a member of the University of Washington’s famed crew, and like Louis Zamperini, a young American who came from humble beginnings to ultimately reach the American dream.

Which leads me to DreamWeek in San Antonio.

Let us all be reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message and his ultimate mission. This week needs to be much more than events. It needs to be more than simply drawing pictures of the Rev. King and much more than his famous speech. It must be an in-depth look at his leadership in civil rights. It should be about our nation’s history, considered side-by-side current events. Let’s all give our students the encouragement and tools they need to become not only great readers, but also critical thinkers.  

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be in Memphis with my youngest son, and he mentioned that we needed to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. He had visited the year before and knew that I would want to see it. It was a cold, wet night and we were the only two people there at 10:00 p.m. What a quiet, humbling, and moving experience. It touches the heart and begs one to wonder why can’t we seem to simply understand that “inside, we are all made the same.” Yes, we’ve made progress in the area of civil rights, but we still have a long journey ahead.

I took some photographs while there. The one with Dr. King is outside near the parking lot. As you can see in the picture, it was drizzling that night, but I couldn’t help but wonder -- was it rain? Or were those tears?

Sincerely,
Dr. Sylvester Perez
Superintendent

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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