Building schmuilding, what counts is inside


Camo Man and I are exhausted. As I write this, we are fresh from school conferences at McLoughlin High School.

We arrived on Friday, running hard from an overbooked teen schedule. Three teens, only one of whom drives, and you can see the problem. There is something nearly every day that requires shepherding of one sort or another, for one kid or another.

Unless it’s all three at once.

Our sweaty cluster arrived in the school gym for arena-style conferences already looking at the clock. We had one hour to fit everyone in.

I sent the senior, Martha Stewart Jr., off to talk to her teachers alone. She’s doing great and, really, if those teachers need her to do something different, it is best it goes from their lips to her ears.

With Hunter Boy and Miss Tall and Blond to be seen to, Camo Man and I divided forces. We raced (well, speed walked) to the first station manned by a teacher and went from there.

Can I just say something? I live in Oregon and my state has some big issues with education funding. So does my town of Milton-Freewater, having voted down a new school. Five. Separate. Times.

There are reasons on all sides of the picture, of course there are. When Walla Walla voted down a new high school facility, I could only nod knowingly.

The issue is complicated and heavily seasoned with emotion, whatever box you mark on the ballot. It’s about property taxes, teacher performance, program expectations, how the football team did. Or if you liked the most recent concert.

The arguments wax and wane all over social media, with comments getting more and more heated.

It’s frightening how child-like adults get when fighting about kids.

You would never know any of that in our aging school gym on conference days. Without exception, every educator there seems absolutely determined to help my family grow our teens into healthy and capable adults.

And we’re not getting cookie-cutter advice. Take the science teacher, who was so sick that we sat back five feet from his makeshift conference desk. As he scrubbed at his red nose with a tissue and blinked his watering eyes, the man meticulously explained what my student needed to do to get off house arrest — in the parental sense.

That’s how I deal with unacceptable grades, because I am old school and I don’t really care if harsh sanctions are in a child’s best interest — if I have to go over miserable academia on his or her behalf, they can be equally miserable. Seems fair enough to me.

It was the same story all the way around the gym. This was the tail of two long conference days and I know every person there longed to see the day end. But no, here was a quiz that could be redone, there was advice on Future Farmers of America projects. Everywhere an offer of support, including daily check-in emails, administering a test during lunch, opening the gym at 7 a.m.

I don’t know if this is because Milton-Freewater is a small town or what, but I’ll take it.

The kids at my house deal with a lot. Everyone has lost a parent and all are learning to mix in a blended family. There are emotional, social and intellectual struggles that can shoot off the charts. If Camo Man and I didn’t have Mac-Hi — we would need a lot more wine and a lobotomy or two.

Not that every situation is dealt with to my liking. I know this will shock you but I can be really, um, forthright. That’s the word people use when they say it to my face, anyway. Sometimes I need perspective and maybe some administrative muscle, so to speak.

That’s when I call Ralph.

Ralph Brown is the principal at Mac-Hi and our relationship is interesting. He would politely decline to comment on this, but I recall one argument between us that escalated to whispered, frenetic shouting, the sort you carry out when each of you is in a professional setting and fighting over the phone.

We were a fine sight, I am sure, huddled over and spitting fire, each of us determined to show the other who said what and why. Not my finest moment.

That was then, this is now. We’re both older and wiser and each of us is well versed in educating kids who don’t fall into typical student molds. Whatever those might be.

These days it’s Ralph I call — and Camo Man is following suit — when I just can’t bridge the school gap myself. Or when the two parents at our house are no match for any one teen. Indeed, our family takes up some hefty chunks of Ralph’s day at times.

Yet he never fails to call me back. Not taking action, not taking me seriously, “schooling” me in how to parent — that’s not Ralph’s style.

This is the stuff I think maybe people aren’t hearing enough about. Teachers who teach, administrators who administer, no matter how decrepit the heating system is or how much the budget is chopped with hatchets.

We’re tired, it’s true. And happy for the crimson and black life preserver we’ve been tossed. Go, Pioneers.


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