TEELING: Community Involvement Can Save Schools
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
June 1, 2015
In the Steve Jobs authorized biography by Walter Isaacson, Jobs relates a story about growing up with his dad outside of Palo Alto. When building things, even something like a fence, his dad always emphasized that every aspect of the project be done right — not just the parts you can see, but also the parts that are hidden.
I thought of this as Andy Teeling was telling me about how he builds furniture and cabinetry. “I want the piece to be finished and professional, the quality should be the same, no matter which way you look at it. From the back, bottom, top, or if you open it up and look inside, it should all be just as polished as the part you see,” Teeling said.
This level of care, professionalism, and ethics says a lot about Teeling, and is one of the reasons that, if there is ever going to be any progress in Northampton — from business to industry to the sustainability of the county economy — it may just begin right here with Andy.
From Teeling’s perspective, ground zero for economic recovery is our schools, and it all starts with one simple question: “What can we, each of us, individuals and businesses, do for our schools?”
Teeling understands that the situation in Northampton is daunting. The school population is shrinking, a reflection of the overall contraction of the county population. With that comes a leaner tax base, leaving less and less available for our schools. “This is an all hands on deck situation,” said Teeling. “Unfortunately, the county is so divided. The zoning issues have divided us. We need both sides, and they are both right — the ones that want to protect the environment are right, but those that are more business friendly and want to see things grow and develop are also right.”
Teeling believes this division has created a logjam, with the kids and the County’s economic health stuck in the middle. Businesses and families won’t move here because of the perception that Northampton schools are subpar. “The contentiousness, the division needs to end. We all need something that we can focus on, to work together on, and that is the schools. Committing ourselves to improving the schools, by putting our attention on our future citizens, will be good for business, be good for the economy,” he said.
CONTINUED FROM FIRST PAGE
Certainly this is a long term vision, but Teeling believes we have to start somewhere, and that the momentum is already building. Tangible motivation, or a way to get people to understand and really buy in, is to make the connection between a quality school system and the economy, which Teeling, and others feel are uniquely bonded.
In Education and Economic Growth: From the 19th to the 21st Century, Charles Fadel and Riel Miller state, “There is strong evidence from the recent past that economic growth has been accompanied by growth in both spending and participation in schooling. Economists have examined this association quite carefully and come to the conclusion that, through a variety of different avenues and in a number of different ways, investment in school systems does have a strong economic pay-off.”
The resolution that Teeling brought before the Board of Supervisors echoes this, stating that the future of our county’s prosperity hinges on an engaged, informed, and educated youth, and is “the engine that drives, and will continue to drive our local and regional economy.”
According to Teeling, one of the core issues is that the county has a bad image — a branding problem. “When you look around, all you hear is the bad stuff: we’re cutting budgets, cutting school services, the zoning issues, and the hospital is leaving. We need to write new headlines that focus on the good things, like the small rural waterfront community that has incorporated an education initiative to help drive our economy, or new businesses are attracted by renewed interest in education.”
Teeling feels that to be able to control this message, to focus on our attributes, and to totally rebrand Northampton, the county needs to invest in a full time public relations person. “I think we don’t have to break the bank to do this, but it is so important. It could be a young person — it maybe should be a young person, who is from here, and is just graduating from college. Someone that knows technology, because that is critical. We need to tell our story, that business, the entire community is engaged. If we can do this, watch the economy rebound, incomes will go up, with it the tax base will swell,” he said.
What Teeling is saying is that for so long, the county has been beaten down — the citizens, business, and the schools have had to endure an onslaught of bad news and negativity. This gloomy narrative has had a negative impact on not just how the county is viewed, but on real business, population decline, and a declining tax base.
“I really feel the public relations piece is so important. We need the good news put out there — a new perspective can bring the community together,” Teeling said.
Part of that new perspective is a call for mutual respect of the parties that are so divided. “We can’t continue to be so divided, to focus on the past and expect things to get better. We have to move the county forward, not focusing so much on airing grievances but focusing on creating a healthy environment for all of us,” he said.
Even as there is much to do, Teeling feels optimistic, given the high quality of the folks that are involved with our schools, from teachers to staff to the School Board to the superintendent. “Morale is up, there is a momentum, and I really believe that has so much to do with all the good people in the schools. [Superintendent] Eddie Lawrence has created a lot of good will, the people really like him. We can build on that momentum,” Teeling said.
At the core of Teeling’s vision is the buy in, collaboration, and partnership of all stakeholders in the county. That is, what can one person do to make a difference? Guiding by example, Teeling took it upon himself to see just what a difference he could make.
The first order of business was to go to Northampton High School and get the Job Shadow Program reinstated. Job Shadowing brings students into the workplace for a day where they can observe specific kinds of work on location at the employer site. For students, it is a way to get an up close look at different kinds of occupations, and gives them an insight into the career choices that are out there. Hopefully, they will also be exposed to just what it means to be a professional, including workplace etiquette, attire, and practices. The program also takes advantage of government agencies, with Fish and Wildlife and Forestry active participants.
When I first met Teeling I had my doubts whether his ideas for a mentorship program would ever take hold with our younger generation, but after digging into the meat of the program, I found that he changed my mind. The Career Mentor program that Teeling has jump-started at the high school is focused on leveraging the rich tapestry of experience and knowledge that exists in not just the current workforce, but also in the ever expanding retiree community.
This is a captive audience, but when a former US Army General, or a former corporate CEO comes to speak, it is generally a packed room. Teeling encourages folks to get in touch with the high school to coordinate a time to come and share their experiences with a group of very eager students.
With the help of folks like Ron West and Donna Boza, Teeling is also in the process of getting the school newspaper back in circulation. On his plate is also an effort to get the Booster Club back on its feet as a way of helping all of Northampton’s athletic programs.
Once again, it is community involvement that will define success. “Each of us needs to find just a little time, maybe just one hour a week, to be able to step away from the business and maybe just tutor at one of our schools. We need to show these kids — all these kids — that there are people out there that care about them. The old model just doesn’t work: we need a new model that is based on more involvement, from parents, to other members of the community. Just a day week, and you will see good things come of it. What a difference it would make. For all of us.”