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High expectations make a world of difference

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

December 09, 2013

Dear SAISD Staff,

Today, I have for you a message about setting high expectations not only for our students but for ourselves. The timing seems appropriate with the passing last week of global peace icon Nelson Mandela, who set a high bar for humanity. Sadly, this world has lost a true and rare leader, the caliber of which few can replicate – but that doesn’t mean we should not aim to be the best versions of ourselves.
Some may think the term "high expectations" is overused at times. However, I think it is impossible to be overused, and I’ll tell you why in two words: Wes Moore.
Wes Moore was raised by a single mother in a poor neighborhood in Baltimore. His father died when he was 3 years old, and his mother worked hard to provide for him. When he was about to enter the 8th grade, his mother made a difficult life-altering decision to send him to a military school. As Wes Moore writes in his New York Times bestselling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” his mother felt that his priorities needed adjusting, along with his attitude.
Although he kept running away from military school and back to his mother, she always sent him back to the school, where he slowly displayed leadership skills and began to like the responsibility of leading a squadron. His discipline and self-pride also were becoming evident in the classroom, so much so that he became a candidate for one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Johns Hopkins University. Wes applied himself and later became the school's first African American Rhodes Scholar! 
After graduation, he joined the Army and became an officer in the elite Army Rangers. He served in Afghanistan, and upon his return to the states, he became a White House Fellow, working alongside then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the State Department.
Unbeknownst to Wes, there was another Wes Moore who had grown up in similar circumstances, in the same neighborhood, only a few blocks away. At one point, Wes Moore's mother mentioned the rare coincidence of another person bearing her son’s name living so close, yet living such a starkly different life. 
This other Wes Moore also was raised by a single mother, but he led a life riddled with violence, crime and drugs. He had attempted to improve his life by applying with the Job Corps, but he failed and returned to a life of crime. When a robbery occurred and an off-duty policeman was killed, the other Wes Moore went to prison.
After hearing of the other Wes Moore's life, Wes decided to visit the prisoner who had the same name as him to find answers as to why their lives had turned out so different. The answer he found: Expectations. No one, the other Wes Moore told him, had expected anything of him. Once he established a police record, it went downhill from there, with his crimes becoming more serious over time. 
This tale of two divergent lives that had their beginnings in the same place led Wes Moore to this conclusion:
"Teachers, tutors, mentors, and volunteers who work with young people are as important to our survival and advancement as a nation as the armed forces," he writes in his book.
I can’t think of a better illustration for why we must set high expectations of ourselves and our students. If we set the bar high, the students will meet the expectations. Do not underestimate the power of motivation and attitude.
But it is not enough to have high expectations for our students. We must set those same high expectations for ourselves. You, as an adult in SAISD, are as important as anyone in shaping the future. You do matter and are valued and appreciated!
In closing, although the world will never have another Nelson Mandela, we can all take his life lessons of humility, forgiveness, humor and servant leadership to make this a better society and world. News reports mentioned that Mandela once said “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world.”
Let us hear the music and feel the dancing in our hearts and minds for peace during this holiday season.


Dr. Sylvester Perez

“When people are determined, they can overcome anything.” – Nelson Mandela


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