"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Our school facilities have leaped forward

The MAHS concert hall did not exist when I was in high school. In fact, the MAHS auditorium did not exist when I was in high school. How long ago was that? We watched "The Partridge Family" on TV. Danny Bonaduce was a child star, gaining the fame that would enable him to project his weird persona on us today. Burt Reynolds was in "Deliverance." Today Burt's picture is on the cover of grocery store magazines which accent his declining state.
Our then-superintendent would say for years that getting our auditorium built was arduous. He'd say he "almost got fired" over getting that rather modest facility built. It is certainly modest compared to the dazzling concert hall.
Has there been a band concert yet this year? I see one upcoming on the school calendar for November 3. In this community, it's best to confirm dates and times for events even after they appear in print. An odd tic of the Morris community is that times and even dates can get changed. I think it's inconsiderate.
I have theorized with a friend that the problem is the tendency these days for us to want to be perfectionists. An event is scheduled and then a problem or conflict is discovered. In the past, the people involved would have "toughed it out," maybe accepting a slightly diminished turnout. Everyone would still be happy. Today the bar is raised for feeling happiness. It is almost impossible to feel happy at the most fundamental level. Tech has smoothed over so many bumps in the road. Perfectionism can actually diminish our happiness.
Was it last year that the date of the resource expo got changed? Word on the street afterward was that Joe Schmit was only available to speak on a certain night. This should have been ascertained before the published announcement (what our family had from two paper sources).
I strongly question the assertion that Morris residents are more intelligent than residents of other communities of similar size. UMM does not appear to make us smarter. Burger King came here because of the myth that Morris is an attractive location because of being a college town. We're a college town, yes, but the campus is actually idle a good portion of the year. You may not realize this until you operate a business that is dependent on the campus community.
I find it discouraging that the MLK holiday comes along so soon after the prolonged break over Christmas/New Year's. The MLK holiday has been transformed into a "day of service" which is nice, but how many people really participate? I have noticed that with each passing year, the "day of service" aspect is accented more, and it seems less a holiday to honor a deceased individual.
The problem with the latter approach is that it strikes me, as I highlighted in a past blog post, as condescending. It's as if we're saying to non-white people: "You should be grateful to this guy named Martin Luther King who came along to make sure you could get the rights you were naturally entitled to." Young people are puzzled to hear this story. Young people today are truly color-blind. That's the way we want it, right? Let's forget the holiday. The memory of MLK could be preserved in history books.
Why would our Superintendent Fred Switzer be prickly and defensive when talking about the MAHS auditorium? One theory is that he was applying money for this from some category that maybe the teachers thought they should get their mitts on, or have a chance to get their mitts on. Switzer was in a generation of school administrators who felt they had to watch every penny. He wanted to show off to the board about what a zealous custodian he was, of school resources. It's commendable in theory. But. . .
I remember being at a school board meeting when Switzer trumpeted to the board about how he was walking through the school hallways one evening and noticed lights on in the gym (the 1968 gym). There was one individual in there shooting baskets. The superintendent accosted that person, asking what was up. The answer: "Community Education open gym." As I recall the story, the superintendent asked the person to try to turn off some of the lights, himself.
And the superintendent was bragging about doing this? That was the stuff of which he was made. I remember being told there were only two people in the Morris area who understood school financing: Switzer and Mary Ann Scharf. If that were true, it should not have been. It should not have been that complicated.
Switzer's approach encouraged a confrontational or adversarial air with teachers. Maybe I have blamed teachers too much. Maybe they were a product of the environment. Teachers developed a hard edge with their union-based arguments. There was a community uprising against some of the regressive stuff toward the end of the 1980s. Society wasn't going to sit back and let teachers continue with their ossified, cynical and combative ways.
Teachers have legitimate rights. But the scale had to be adjusted. I have a feeling the systems have been changed so administration can focus on the big picture stuff, and not worry about whether a couple extra lights are on for "Community Education open gym." I think the relationship between school administration and Community Ed. has been fixed so that the territories are well-defined. The early days of Community Ed. may have been disruptive.
Today we have the spectacular MAHS concert hall. It may even be too big for its purposes. I hope we didn't build it just to have a Bellamy Brothers concert. Remember that? At least one of the brothers came here with a bad cold. Worse yet, there was a souvenir kiosk at the entry to the school, full of bold Confederate flag symbols. It didn't seem right at a school.
I'm not sure the concert itself was appropriate. People can go to casinos to get that entertainment.
I think November 3 is too late for the first band concert of the school year. I was told it couldn't be on October 26 because of some "health fair." OK, then why couldn't the concert be a week earlier? In fact, why not have some type of performance in September?
We got a new varsity gym built at the time the concert hall was built. We got a new band room and choir room. I think a lot of this took the public by surprise. Did we really need all that? Did we need the new gym on the south side of the school, built in 1991? Jim Morrison wondered in print if we were trying to become "the gymnasium capital of Western Minnesota."
Money must be pouring from the sky for schools. We don't need a penny-pinching, Scrooge-like superintendent anymore. The old austerity seems quaint to reflect upon. And depressing.
Time marches on.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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