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It felt ironic sitting between two beautiful public school principals while facing four male school board members at the recent board meeting on tax-deadline Tuesday (April 15). The fact that the only female board member and board president was not present that evening made the irony mysterious.
Two days later, when I read the Los Alamos Monitor headline “Schmidt’s contract OK’d”, I felt the irony deepen. If Dr. Eugene Schmidt would agree to stay beyond that year, I would urge the board to abandon its search for a new superintendent, since it would be foolish to lose such a man with his qualities and capability.
Allow me to explain.
Almost five years ago, while sitting in the opening ceremonies for the new school year, newly hired Superintendent Schmidt presented his vision for the public schools. He began with a simple slogan: “If Our Hearts Are Right.” That felt to me right on and I wondered if it was more than rhetoric. I resolved to find out.
When Dr. Schmidt rode my school bus as his first experience with the transportation department, we had an opportunity to get better acquainted. Soon, I’m pleased to say, that acquaintance developed into a friendship and I have learned that his motto is in no way simply rhetoric.
During a first private meeting in his office shortly after the bus ride, we had occasion to discuss many subjects, one of which was dreams and dream work, which I have been actively involved with for decades. After explaining my working hypothesis that “Dreams are pictures of feelings that parallel our waking life” he responded by sharing a recent, troubling dream. That was all I needed to know that his slogan was not rhetoric! Since dreams come from the heart (feelings), they tell us our private truth in personal metaphors that do not lie. At once I knew this man in a deeper way that only a dream can reveal and realized he was the right man for this job. I became convinced that his slogan was uniquely “right” for this legendary town, i.e. a scientific community, so preoccupied with thinking at the expense of feeling that many students find unbearable and needing transformation. I’m thinking of our recent local suicides and the recent film “Race to Nowhere.”
Looking at those four male members of the school board on that tax-deadline Tuesday, while I sat betwixt those two accomplished women, I wondered if their male hearts “were right.”
Weeks earlier, when I first learned of Dr. Schmidt’s resignation, in my own heart I felt this must not happen and realized that I could only know these men’s hearts if they were to share their dreams. With that in mind, I remembered conversations about this subject with other school administrators and board members over the years.
One was with a newly elected board member, whom I met for breakfast. When he could not remember a single dream and even thought the subject strange, it gave me pause. We clearly had a language problem! This is an issue — i.e., not knowing the language of the heart — that “The Deep Democracy of Open Forums” (developed by physicist/psychologist Dr. Arnold Mindell) is designed to explore and experience.
Dr. Schmidt bravely brought the issue to surface when he recently submitted his resignation for lack of board support. It was surely a wake-up call! Some community members rose to the occasion and began an inquiry.
With this new awareness in mind, I propose having such a deep democracy open forum for the community at large in the near future and am confident that the board will learn that their intended search is not necessary.
Then, if the board is not willing to reconsider this plan, I will figure out a way for us all to watch again the original film of “The Music Man,” where Robert Preston teaches the men in a conflicted school board how to sing barber shop harmony.
Eugene N. Kovalenko, Ph.D.
Los Alamos Deep Democracy Open Forum, Inc.