A Message from Dr. Bell - November  

November 29, 2011

The people lucky enough to work with me on a frequent basis (names withheld to protect the innocent) know the tangents my mind can take on any given topic. After taking time to think about the Lion King, I found myself in South Africa for 12 days last month. The trip was actually inspired by my wife, Rebecca, who chose the destination for a birthday event. I, of course, initially said no because I had no desire to be chased and eaten by wild beasts. Then I looked up to see a quite serious face. My attitude quickly changed and I started packing camouflage clothing and located a good book to help me survive the 16 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg. Thankfully, we survived the long flights, wild beasts, mysterious food, and viral mosquitoes to experience a wonderful trip full of great memories and new friends.

Being a consummate professional, guides, drivers, and innocent bystanders at rest stops were queried about the educational system in South Africa. After numerous conversations, I discovered that South Africa is a very progressive third world country. Their educational system lagged behind for many years. The impetus for change came when the country hosted the Football World Cup in 2010. Not only did that event infuse billions of dollars into the economy, it also highlighted the need for a better educated citizenry.

All along our winding path we saw smiling, uniformed children walking to and from very basic looking school buildings. I now have a better understanding of apartheid, the system of racial segregation, that had gripped this country from 1948-1994. The affects of that movement still linger because entire communities were uprooted and moved to new locations. Shafiek, the final guide that was secured to help us find the elusive cheetah, took us on a side trip through the squalor of Langa, a shanty town on the outskirts of Cape Town. He explained the increasing desire to break away from this type of living and the need for his two young sons to secure a proper education to give them future opportunity. He personally was saving money to go to a special tutorial school to be trained as a tour guide so he could pass the national test to get his license. Since he was a man of color, he would not have even been able to think about this before 1994.

The one big thing I learned from South Africa is that we can never rest on our laurels. Kenny, our Soweto guide, joked with us when he explained that South Africa has eleven official languages. He went on to say that most South Africans can communicate in at least seven languages. He has found through his work that if you can speak two languages you are Canadian and if you know only one you are an American. That fact really tickled Kenny.

All of this information made me pause and think about what we do here at ESU 10 as we "partner with our customers to meet changing needs through professional expertise, training, and support." What do we need to do maintain an advantage when competing in a global situation? What will be our catalyst that propels us to new heights?

One program you might want to learn more about is a new ESU 10 effort called Team Blue. You can check it out on the ESU 10 website or call Jason Everett to ask some pointed questions as to how this program might benefit your school district. A number of school districts are involved, but there is always room for you. We all need to continue to find ways to make a positive difference!