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In the pursuit of excellence

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Of the many characteristics that I have come to know and admire about Los Alamos, the pursuit of excellence is one. It seems since the first student stepped into a “Secret City” classroom, the importance and quality of education has been on the minds of our citizenry.  
Over the decades, there were many signs that point to the importance that education played. For example, the new high school in the early 1950s was hailed as “a state of the art facility.” Similarly, educators from the 1970s celebrated the high school’s selection as a Bellamy Award winner for excellence in community relations, education, citizenship and civic concern.
High quality education in Los Alamos has always come in many forms, including music, art, drama, and building trades to name just a few. This holistic view originated with Superintendent Robert Wegner in the 1940s, who introduced “specials” teachers as part of the school district’s educational program to produce well-rounded graduates.
Superintendent Duane Smith, in the 1970s, cemented these specials into our educational traditions to ensure that schools were here for all kinds of students. It was as if he felt there wasn’t a mold that one had to fit in order to be successful.
Over the past sixty years, Los Alamos has had its share of Presidential Scholars and graduates who made incredible contributions to our country. Duane Smith was heard to say, “The better the teacher, the better the education.” So it is today. Thanks to Smith’s strong belief in teacher/student relationships, our educational success grew.  
Superintendent Jim Anderson added his voice to the tradition of excellence in the late 1990s by using the Department of Energy’s $8 million appropriation as an investment in the future of our youth. This investment made it possible to fund the arts, drama, music, and many other programs for which Los Alamos is known. Anderson is also credited with leading the initiative to pass the bond for the new high school addition.  
The importance that education holds for the future of our youth still lives in Los Alamos today as does our pursuit of excellence. I see it in the faces of the Class of 2012, who excitedly share news of their acceptance into the college or university of their choice. I hear it in their voices as they discuss their goal of being a doctor, teacher, or engineer. I learn of it in the pride that their parents and teachers feel when they know that they have done their jobs well.
All of our graduates hopes and dreams serve as a reminder that the pursuit of excellence is ongoing.  As a community, we must continue to ask ourselves “What do we do well?” and importantly, “What can we do better?”
Our community will have the opportunity to join this debate in April. For the past seven months, five thrust area teams have been studying and researching these questions with the intent of presenting a strategic plan to the community that continues our pursuit of excellence. Each of these teams will present a set of goals at a community forum on April 21st at the high school Speech Theater from 10:00 a.m. until noon.
It is now our turn. To paraphrase Duane Smith, we share responsibility for the education of our students. Decisions made at this gathering will help set a path forward on our district’s pursuit of excellence for our students. I invite you to join with me in that discussion. It is in our pursuit of excellence that we become even better.
Dr. Eugene Schmidt is the superintendent of Los Alamos County schools.