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Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins

Invisible Heroes In Our Nations Schools


February 15, 2013

Teachers make a huge difference in the lives our children, but so, too, do school support personnel. They are often overlooked until tragic events like the Newtown massacre or the Midland City, Alabama hostage drama plays out.

One such person, rural Alabama bus driver Charles Albert Poland Jr., lost his life protecting “his” children when Jimmy Lee Dykes, a deranged Vietnam veteran ‘survivalist’, boarded the bus and kidnapped a 5-year-old boy. He shot Mr. Poland, who intervened, four times before killing him.

Dykes boarded the bus, handing Poland a note demanding he hand over two young children. Mr. Poland opened the emergency door in the rear of the bus to prevent Mr. Dykes from grabbing the children as they escaped. But Dykes grabbed 5-year-old Ethan, whom he held hostage in an underground bunker six days before law enforcement stormed the bunker, killing Dykes and rescuing Ethan.

Because of the heroic action of a bus driver, 20 kids got away.

When a child boarded Charles Albert Poland Jr.’s bus, “they were no longer their parents’, they were his” Poland’s son, Aaron, told NBC News. “And I know that’s the reason why my dad took those shots. It was for his children, just like he would do for me and my sister.”

While not as visible or literally taking bullets like Mr. Poland, there are many wonderful school support personnel who give it their all every day to benefit our school children.

The many unsung heroes in our schools across Michigan and America often blend into the background but perform vital support services – cleaning the buildings, answering phones, staffing the offices, cooking meals, and driving buses.

Bus drivers are the first school employees to greet our children in the morning and the last to see them before they are delivered safely home at night.

When I became Michigan’s State Superintendent of Schools in 2001, I inherited a “Michigan Teacher of the Year Award” program honoring Michigan’s great teachers. What was missing, as pointed out by Ruby Newbold, President of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, and an AFT Vice-President, was a recognition program for school support personnel.

With the support of of one of Michigan’s finest labor leaders, David Hecker, President of the Michigan Federation of Teachers, a state-wide recognition program was born for hard-working school support personnel. Today, the Michigan State Board of Education annually recognizes those men and women who work in our schools, supporting teaching and learning.

Laying Down His Life

Poland was remembered by his family, friends, and the broader community as a kind and gentle soul who loved life, his family, “his kids” and The Lord.

Let’s honor the ultimate sacrifice this good man, a school bus driver, husband and father made by acknowledging the men and women in support positions in our schools.

Our teachers may be lead singers in our schools, but the support personnel provide backup and are doo-wop harmony!

I like to think of our public schools as the true Statue of Liberty in America – truly taking the tired and hungry, as well as poor children, those who speak English as a second language or kids with disabilities, giving them hope and opportunity. Our teachers, then, hold the torches lighting the way while support staff quietly keep the buses running, the buildings clean, food served, and offices operating. They may seem invisible but only until they pop onto the nation’s screen when tragedy strikes.

Rest in peace, Mr. Poland. Thanks for standing up and protecting our kids.

Thanks, too, to the countless public school servants who work in relative obscurity, loving, supporting and nurturing our children. You are making a difference in our collective futures each and every day!

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as State Superintendent of Schools from 2001-05. In 2010 he was selected as an Upton Sinclair awardee by Ednews.org. He is a US/China business and educational consultant and can be reached at tdwatkins88@gmail.com

February 14, 2013 · Filed under Tom Watkins

29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sara jones // Feb 15, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Thank you for reinforcing what we know– it takes a village to raise a child. Too often, we forget to thank those who have a hand — like bus drivers and others who support our children. Your compelling story reminds…

    thank you tom watkins!

  • 2 Chuck Fellows // Feb 15, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Often the two most important people in a school building – the custodian and the secretary – at least to the kids in the building.

  • 3 Jon // Feb 15, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Nice article Tom. It is important to look at the other people who contribute in the education process and help guarantee our children’s safety.

  • 4 Martha // Feb 15, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Dave Hecker is a decent guy- fair, bright, honest and works hard for both kids and his members– great recognition for a good guy in this town.

  • 5 Marge Sorge // Feb 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Interesting to mentions of “invisible” people– this essay about the folks that support teaching and learning and the article by Maxine about woman that our abused and often overlooked in society.
    It is great we have people willing to bring our attention to the injustices in the world.

  • 6 dixiealley // Feb 23, 2013 at 4:06 am

    thank you all for blessings and prayers for saving our nephew and his horrific week underground. and continue to pray for the bus drivers family who gave his life for these other children. God bless.

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