Spoiler Alert: Smooth Start to School

September 02, 2016

Checking in on the first day of school at ECDEvery year, at the end of the first day of school I am asked repeatedly by teachers and parents, “So, did the first day go smoothly?” There are two short answers to this question. The first is, “Smoothly.” I’ll get to the second answer in a minute.

I suspected things would run smoothly Wednesday when I walked to school that morning. There are nine traffic lights between my home and the Oak campus, and I didn’t have to stop and wait at a single light; they were all green. Smooth! I’ve walked this route hundreds of times, and I can’t remember ever hitting nine green lights in a row before. And then this happened: as I walked between our campuses on Oak, Waller, and Turk on Wednesday morning, my luck continued. I swear on a stack of the Analects of Confucius that all the lights were green when I reached them, every last one. I went onto Google Maps and counted the intersections. I crossed 27 intersections with traffic lights, and I did not hit a single red light. Twenty seven! What are the odds? I have told a few people about this, and most of them have remarked, “You should have bought lottery tickets!” Indeed, why didn’t I think of that?

As I shuffled, obstacle-less, between Waller, Oak, and Turk, my experience of ease and convenience was, in fact, pretty much mirrored by everything I encountered on the three campuses; everything was running smoothly, very smoothly in fact. Happy kids. Happy teachers. Happy parents. Middle School Director Joe Williamson said this was his 28th first day of school, and it was the smoothest one yet. This did not really surprised me. Think about it: every family in our community wants to be here—they (i.e., you) chose CAIS, and this suggests a pretty high measure of confidence in the school and satisfaction with the direction things are going. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. And think of the staff; they (we) all want to be here too, and given the experience, confidence, and conscientiousness of my colleagues, I am not surprised that things ran smoothly. And although it did not surprise me, I also did not expect it or take it for granted. I mean, if there had been a glitch or two or three, then that would have been okay too, because that’s the nature of things. It’s like traffic lights; I’ve been in San Francisco since July 2010, and I’ve never hit 27 green lights in a row. I was giddy that it happened, and I have no expectation that walking around Hayes Valley will ever be that obstacle-free again. If it happens, great, but I’m realistic. That’s just not what life is like.

I was reminded that life is just not like that on Thursday afternoon of this week during after school pick up on Hickory Street. Not smooth, at all. It seems that an unfortunate fellow was driving on Franklin, and his car broke down in the middle of the street at about 2:50 p.m. It was a perfect demonstration of the butterfly effect; traffic on Franklin, Fell, and Gough ground to a halt. Kids waited and waited and waited for their rides on Hickory Street, patiently. Usually after school pick up is over before 3:15 p.m., at which time the students from French American come out, and their parents, grandparents, and nannies pick them up. It’s usually a thing of beauty—so smooth. Well, this did not happen on Thursday. At 3:15, with the French American kids streaming out the door, there were still dozens of CAIS kids whose rides were stuck on Franklin, Hickory, and Gough. Amidst the relative chaos, CAIS and NCIS staff were vigilant about safely matching kids with their rides. Parents, while doubtless frustrated by the traffic, were understanding and good natured—I only saw a couple of frustrations spill over. By 3:30 the kids whose rides were coming had been picked up, and the faculty whisked the remaining kids to MPR2 for extended day. This wasn’t smooth by any definition, but it was good. 

Traffic and delays at 3:00 p.m. in an urban area are inevitable. Some days will be worse than others, like Thursday. We can’t control this. We can control how we react to the traffic and the confusion and the delays—it is a choice. And on Thursday the kids, the teachers, the NCIS staff and the parents, grandparents, and nannies chose for the most part to make the best of the situation. I generally don’t have the expectation that everything in life will or even should run smoothly all the time, and when things don’t run smoothly I try not to pile self-generated suffering on top of those things that inevitably go wrong. I loved seeing our kids, teachers and families choose to put a positive spin on a less-than-perfect situation—it was also a thing of beauty, just of a different kind. This type of attitude is completely consistent with the education we want to provide for our kids.

So another answer to the question “Did the first day of school run smoothly?” is both “Yes” and “Because our community does such a good job at choosing to be graceful under pressure, we had no self-inflicted suffering.” The fact that this characterization resonates is a sign that we’ve chosen the right school. 

A way of looking at how we channel our energy