Every last issue of the year in this part of your favorite weekly newspaper, I write That Was the Year That Was 20__.
This headline is the short, and school year, version of my own annual tradition — call this That Was the School Year That Was 2013–14.
Certainly this school year will be remembered for how interrupted it was — four days off due to bitter cold, two days off because of ice, an early dismissal due to ice fog, an early dismissal due to heat, and, wonder of wonders, a day off due to snow. It apparently took a hideous (though sadly not abnormal) winter like this for the Legislature to finally give school districts flexibility by eliminating the 180-day attendance requirement.
I attended the recital of Platteville High School singers Arianna Day and Rachael Demaree Saturday. (But you knew that already from page 2A.) Readers have noticed there are a lot of music photos in your favorite weekly newspaper each week.
The obvious reason is that the arts are part of schools, and schools generally are a major part of a community newspaper, since (1) readers have children, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren in school, and (2) schools are the biggest single component of tax bills, so taxpayers deserve to know what’s going on in the schools their taxes are funding.
The obvious additional reason is that the arts are a major part, and should be a major part, of the educational experience. I’m not asserting this as a parent of a trumpet player, a string bass (and future trombone) player and a singer, nor am I asserting this as a second-generation trumpet player.
Music specifically combines math — the notes on a page of music — and art — how those notes are performed. There is value to performing in a musical group — which, as I’ve argued here before, includes many of the benefits of athletic team membership, though in schools the size of those around here there are student–athletes and musicians — and as a soloist or in a small group as well. Laurence Olivier once said the secret to acting was to have the humility to prepare and the confidence to bring it off, and that extends far beyond theatre and drama.
Consider the photo last week of five Belmont High School students’ performing Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” at the BHS commencement. Three of the five performers were graduates, and two of them were foreign exchange students. All five had to practice, and then had to perform — getting only one opportunity to do so — in front of their families, their classmates and other BHS students, and a large part of the Belmont community in circumstances that most people would consider to be at least a little intimidating. That was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen at a high school commencement, and I’ve been to a few over the years. (Including, of course, PHS’ Commencement Sunday.)
Commencements are the last act of talented high school students every year. Every year, talented students leave, and, I imagine, one wonders how they will be replaced. Last year, I wondered who would replace PHS’ Emma Wilson (the daughter of two of my high school classmates) and Jordan Stombaugh, and then Day and Demaree kept showing up in The Journal this past school year. (Though clearly they had been performing well before just this year.)
The most unusual aspect of the 2013–14 school year probably was the changing of three of the Platteville School District’s four principals, the last coming when Platteville High School principal Jeff Jacobson becomes the Dodgeville School District administrator at the end of the month. (Whoever replaces Jacobson will have huge shoes to fill, given PHS’ earned reputation for academic excellence.)
It says something positive about the School Board’s decision-making abilities when it decided to have one principal cover two buildings, and then decided that splitting a principal wasn’t working — when you make a decision that doesn’t work, don’t compound the problem by not fixing it. It also says something positive about the school district that it was able to fill the Middle School position from within — PHS nationally certified teacher Jason Julius, who might be the wave of the future in principal hirings based on teaching ability (and leadership ability) over administrative ability.
My favorite story, as you might imagine, this school year was the 2013 Platteville football team. After their 39–21 loss to River Valley in week four, it became obvious, considering that Lancaster was on their schedule a second time (only a sadist could come up with a more difficult schedule for the Hillmen in 2013), that the only way the Hillmen might get into the playoffs was to win four of their last five games. Which they did, and that earned them a playoff game at home against third-time-opponent Dodgeville. You know what followed their second Dodger shutout — wins at Brodhead/Juda and number-one-ranked Walworth Big Foot, a game-saving end-zone interception to beat Manitowoc Roncalli, and there they were at Camp Randall Stadium, a testament to leadership from within, holding each other accountable, and not giving up.