Lesson Learned (December 30)


The acronym of the phrase “sealed with a kiss” is “SWAK.” According to theidioms.com: “It was commonly written on envelopes sent by servicemen to their lovers during the World War I and II. In medieval times, contracts were not considered legal until the signers included an X to represent Saint Andrew and would then kiss the X to prove his sincerity.”

Beth Darnell, my favorite teacher at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, taught my sophomore biology class in 1963. She gave her letters written and received from her former students who fought as part of “The Greatest Generation” in World War II to the Mountaineer Military Museum in Weston, West Virginia. Reading these poignant letters brings a tear. The teacher/student bond is phenomenal. These letters are SWAK! Upshur County retired teacher Barbara McVaney and her husband Ron, who established and nurtured the museum, have given us all a gift of love by preserving these letters from American heroes to their favorite teacher.

Establishing a contract with a kiss or a handshake definitely is old fashioned. I believe we are the worst as a society for its demise, especially because now we do not trust our relationships. Our current litigious culture requires lawyers to pour over every word and phrase of a contract. Teachers might even be discouraged from over-involving themselves in students’ lives, maybe even more so if these are former students.

Take a simple matter such as our BOE supervising our highly esteemed and competent superintendent, Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus. We have a convoluted policy and process designed by attorneys. Even with competent lawyers for the Upshur County Schools Board of Education and another set of lawyers for our county superintendents engaging in precise legalese, we may complete a yearly evaluation by the letter yet not get the essence of what we desire. Doing what is best for our students can be lost in our tangled process that substitutes for heart-to-heart communication.

For example, the Upshur County Schools BOE received a detailed Policy 5011: COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS (5011). We are to abide by the letter of the law including specific time frames. We are to submit detailed process reports annually to the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE). The WVBE can veto our best efforts, requiring us to strictly comply in accordance with and under the authority of the West Virginia Constitution, Article XII, #2 and West Virginia Code #18-2-5 and #18-4-6.

Our evaluation must be submitted six months before it is due so the WVBE can review and hopefully approve it. We must meet mandatory requirements of Section 5, or our evaluation will not be considered. We are to make corrections as dictated and resubmit, etc., etc., etc. through a 10-part process.

Perhaps a letter from a former student fighting in World War II back to Miss Beth Darnell would cover major points like achieving a goal to win the war. Likewise, our BOE would have goals for student achievement. Probably a letter back from a foxhole would arrive in a sealed envelope with the initials SWAK written on the seal. Likewise, our BOE would conduct our superintendent evaluation in executive session. Let us go back to those simpler times when important communication could be SWAK.


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