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October Newsletter from Dr. Aiken, Superintendent of Schools


I hope this correspondence finds you well. It feels great to finally have some fall temps and the changing color of the fall leaves always makes me thankful to live in a state that experiences the 4 seasons.

I had every intention of writing to you this month on Cyber Security since it is Cyber Security Awareness Month. My plan was to sit down and write the newsletter after I went to the Chris Herren Presentation at the Middle School (Project Purple). If you recall, we had Mr. Herren in last year at the HS. Listening to his presentation, I felt it was more urgent and pressing to talk about some of the issues he addressed rather than cyber security.

If you recall from my September newsletter last year, in an effort to gain awareness about the event, I shared the story of my brother Josh and his battle with addiction. Maybe because my own kids are getting older, I listened to Mr. Herren’s presentation this year with a bit of a different bent. This year, he made a few statements that really resonated with me as a parent.

In his talk yesterday, Mr. Herren spoke of his own kids. He went on to say that of his three kids, thankfully, none of have ventured down the path of addiction like he did. Yet, he said if they did, this is what he would say to them: “I would not yell at them. I would not scold them. I would not lecture them. I would not place blame on them…or someone else. Rather, I would hug them. Let them know they are loved. And ask them one question: why?”

As he made these remarks, I was quickly taken back to the last conversation I ever had with my brother. Josh called to ask me if he could borrow $25. I knew full well what his intent was with the money. I did not give it to him. When I told him no, he became angry with me. I suppose at the time I felt like I was doing the right thing: I called him out on what I believed the money was going to be used for. It did not go over well. It did not end well. It is a regret I will live with the rest of my life.

As I watched Mr. Herren deliver his speech, every learner in the gym was glued to him. You could have heard a pin drop. When it was time to conclude, Mr. Herren asked for questions. A number of students raised their hands…and in front of their peers, poured out their hearts to Mr. Herren. Fascinating.

What is it about Mr. Herren’s talk that so engages our kids…and allows for such vulnerability? Honestly, I believe it is because Mr. Herren is raw and honest with the kids. Most importantly, in an amazing, impactful way, in the hour long presentation, kids are made to feel safe with him…and they know he genuinely cares about them.

As educators, parents, community members, anyone else reading this monthly newsletter: perhaps we could take a page from Mr. Herren’s book, seeking first to understand rather than to be understood. I believe our kids are just like all of us: we want to be loved and to know we are loved. Our kids face greater challenges than ever. There is a reason mental health issues are at an all-time high. Now, more than ever, let’s rally around our kids to let them know they do not journey alone. We are all in this together.

Take care- pja