Monday night, the GRPS School Board chose John Matias as the new member. And from his interview it was easy to see why. He demonstrated a rather well-integrated understanding of what the task was before GRPS. Of all the candidates, he showed the greatest familiarity with what was happening in the schools. More than a simple familiarity, he also conveyed an appreciation for how the schools themselves are made up of communities. For him, the sadness in the Transformation Plan was the impact it would have on the communities those schools represented. And he’s right.This is the needle that the schools are trying to thread — the need to be sensitive to parents who have invested in the schools, and the administrative discipline necessary to deliver on the promise.
On MLive the commentators thought that perhaps Matias was the pick going in, that this was something of a show. Formally, this was an odd comment, given that Matias’ Hispanic roots never made to the press. And looking at the panel, three others had far more public resumes with the kind of civic visibility. Their presentations, however, were hampered in various ways, often by simply the manner of speaking — too jocular, too fast, or too stiff.
Now what will Matias actually bring to the table? If his manner and experience is any indication, it will be plenty. First, he has a conciliatory style that will certainly be an asset as the Board continues to wrestle with the challenges. Second, he will likely bring a greater voice to parents in the system. At present, the Board tilts to the professional class, folks whose children are in or have been in City High School. Matias knows that community, but his work at Burton with parents gives him access to other parental voices. These are the voices of those who may be poor but have big dreams for the children. They’re strivers. These are the real future of GRPS, those who believe.
And as any conversation with parents reveals, there continues to be a disconnect, particularly in the Hispanic community — another plus for Matias. Often the parent voice gets framed as objection, or a defensive huddle. Matias calmer voice and manner suggests another possible path to go. It is the language of family. It is the possibility of listening.
When the school board chose John Matias they chose to listen. And whether they realized it or not, they chose to also change how they will speak.