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Wendy: Welcome to this week’s episode of Provo City School District’s What’s up with the Sup’ podcast? I am Superintendent Wendy Dau, and this week I am joined by our Assistant Superintendent over Secondary Education, Darrell Jensen. Before I introduce him more, let’s go over this week’s updates.
- First day of kindergarten is Wednesday, August 23rd. Please be sure to check your school’s website, calendar or social media for all important updates for your school’s start times and other information.
- Elementary schools will continue to release early on Monday and Tuesday, where they will release at 1:00 PM..
- If you qualify for free or reduced lunch, remember to send in your application within the first 30 days of school. This must be done every year, so please make sure you get those applications in.
- Remember to update your information in PowerSchool. This needs to be done annually and allows us to contact you and to keep you updated on important school events.
- The next school board meeting will be our study session on Tuesday, August 22nd, beginning at 4:00 PM. We will also have a short business meeting beginning at 5:15 p.m.. Study and business meetings will be held in board Boardroom one and they are open to the public.
- The Foundation’s Links for Kids golf tournament will be held on September 28th, so if you are interested in participating, please visit foundation.provo.edu.
- Weekly video cast from me will be coming today both to our employees and also out to our community. So stay tuned for that.
- Timpview High school is still under construction. We will have an update after our meeting with our new project management team on Monday, August 21st, and more information will come as to our dates of occupancy for the new wing of Timpview High School.
And now onto our episode.
Today as our guest on our podcast, we have Assistant Superintendent Darrell Jensen. He is our Assistant Superintendent over Secondary Education. He has been an administrator and a teacher for 27 years and most recently was the principal of Corner Canyon High School in Canyons School District. And now he has made the jump to Provo City School District. And we’re very excited to have you here. Thank you for joining me.
Darrell: Hey, thank you, Superintendent. I’m happy to be here.
Wendy: So tell me a little bit about what your job is like.
Darrell: Well, you know what? It’s been really good. I’ve been here on the job a little over a month. I’ve got to meet a lot of really great people, a lot of great individuals at Provo City School District. I’m really happy with what’s been going on. I’m happy to be part of the team here. You know, I’m over secondary education, meaning I’m over the high schools and the middle schools here in the district. And I’m looking forward to just supporting them and helping them with their goals and their school initiatives and just pitching in where I need to be.
Wendy: I’ve noticed you’ve been out in the schools a lot and people have commented on how great that has been. Yeah, that’s one of my goals is I don’t like to be a cave dweller. I want to be visible.
Darrell: I want to be approachable and at the end of the day, that’s what I’m here for, to take things off their plate and try to make their job easier out in the schools and make sure they have the support for the students and teachers that they need.
Wendy: Perfect. We’re here to talk a little bit about the book that we’ve decided to read and focus on as a district. It’s called The Boys in the Boat. And we settled on this book as we were talking as a Cabinet about some of the needs of Provo City School District and really our desire to align our work between the district office and our individual school sites. And so you suggested this book and have done it in the past and kind of talked about the theme of “Find your Swing” and I know this was something that you did at Corner Canyon. So tell me a little bit about that and how you use this theme and this book before and how it worked.
Darrell: Well, I think, as I mentioned earlier, just being here in the district, there are a lot of people working really hard. Everyone gets up with the same goal in mind every day. They go to work and they’re looking just to make things better. When it comes to this theme and finding your swing, it’s all about not just working hard, but working in sync, working with each other, knowing your specific assignments, knowing, for instance, in education, when to implement a program or an intervention for a student or what supports, and just making sure that we’re all on the same page with that. It’s very easy to take a book like this and use it for good in our district.
Wendy: Some of our listeners may not have read the book The Boys in the Boat. So can you give us a little synopsis of what this book is about? Because then I think people will really understand why we chose this as part of our theme for this year.
Darrell: You bet. The Boys in the Boat is about an Olympic rowing team, the 1936 Olympic rowing team, and they were from the University of Washington. Now, this book is set, I think it starts in 1933 when these athletes enter college and try out to be on the rowing team as oarsmen. It’s during the time of the depression. And so they’re just trying to be successful. Eventually, they get on the team. I think close to 200 freshmen try out for the team and nine are going to be on the team. Right? So these are gritty, tough, committed athletes. Anyway, they make the team for the University of Washington and they don’t have a great first year. They eventually, over the next two years, take over the varsity shell, which is the boat. Right? They make it to the 1936 Olympics and spoiler alert, win the gold medal over the big team from Germany that was favored to dominate.
Wendy: Right. And there’s a lot that’s tied to this. In 1936, we have the Olympics in Germany. So it’s during, you know, when the Nazis are controlling Germany. And I think what was significant was they were also an underdog in the United States because you’re East Coast schools were your dominant rowing teams. Right?
Darrell: Exactly. Your Ivy League schools. They also competed very heavily with a team out of California that had won, I want to say competed in or won the ‘32 Olympics.
Wendy: I think you’re right. I think I remember that.
Darrell: The other thing that’s really great about this book is the story about Joe. Joe’s the main character. Joe is basically abandoned, left on his own and really had to struggle through his life, and had some real challenges. And to read about his challenges and the way he was able to overcome them was very inspiring.
Wendy: It’s interesting that as we chose this book, almost every single person who talked to me about it in the hall mentioned the idea that these parents had abandoned him. Like this was just the most horrific thing that they could possibly think of. And it was just interesting that that was the thing that was really standing out to individuals as they started this book. And just thinking about, you know, we still have students, right, that are dealing with significant challenges. So even just that piece of the book really applies a lot to some of the conditions and situations that our own families are dealing with.
Darrell: Absolutely. I mean, he was shipped off to the East Coast for a while during his youth from house to house. Right? And then eventually was reunited back out here in Spokane, Washington. And that one part of the book that talks about the train ride and he was alone and, you know, he depended on adults to kind of watch out for him a little bit. Right. So, yeah, we do, we have real life hurdles and challenges right here in our district that many are probably not aware of that we need to be a part of fixing.
Wendy: Excellent. So tell me a little bit about how that went. Who participated in it when you did this before, in your previous school?
Darrell: Interestingly enough, I started it out with the student government, and had students read the book. I always felt like there were always those pockets of students that weren’t visible or didn’t have a voice in the school. And, you know, things were kind of clunky and there were certain clicks and things like that. And so I had my student government read it, and that’s kind of where it took off. And then just anyone else, faculty members that want to read that we discussed the book but really helped bring them in line, helped them focus and taught them how to involve other student populations in the school, basically. And that was our goal.
Wendy: Excellent. And so what impact did you feel that had on the school? So you’re talking about how it’s breaking down these clicks a little bit and giving them a little bit of a different perspective? I think you also talked about whether you had some teachers read it or departments. So what did you see happen as a result of getting behind this theme?
Darrell: Well, I think one of the main things that I saw, one of the things I’m most proud of is we’re able to form a student council and bring 70 or 80 students together. Now, they did not necessarily read that book, but the people that had read the book understood how important it was to have them involved. And to have them moving in the same direction as the rest of the student body. Teachers were aware of it. They had the option to read it. A lot of them did read it. A lot of them have read it. And then those that did, we actually had a student make a pin and I had a jewelry teacher that helped put it together like a little box. And we would award them with a pin with some oars on it after they had read the book. And it was just letting them know we appreciate their participation and their commitment to being part of the swing. Really gives them a kind of a sense of identity, right? That they’ve all participated in this and they’re kind of buying into that culture that you were creating.
Wendy: Exactly. So let’s talk a little bit about the book itself. Like, what do you love most about this book?
Darrell: It’s a good question. There are a lot of things you can take away from this book depending on where you’re at as far as in your life or in your profession or whatnot. But I think one of the things that I take away is it’s just really, really easy for anyone to cheer on the underdog. Like, we like to cheer for the underdog. And also they work hard. As humans we appreciate those that work hard around us. We have great respect for those that work hard. And I think those are the elements of this book: hard work,determination, commitment and you can overcome those obstacles that get in your way. I mean, this book was written in the early thirties. I remember part of the book that these athletes that tried out for the team did it not just to be on the team. They also did it because they were guaranteed a part time job. I mean, they had over 10 million individuals without jobs at this time, so work was scarce. How can you not help but root for someone that’s got that kind of determination and grit?
Wendy: That’s excellent. So this idea that we pull for one another and then they’re also working really hard, but they’re working in sync and working together, which you kind of brought up before. So how do you think this book connects to the work that we’re trying to do in Provo City School District?
Darrell: Yeah, that’s easy. I mean, we have so many great professionals out in the schools from kindergarten right up on through high school to our seniors, those teachers that are educating our seniors. And they’re all working hard. And I think it puts them in alignment with each other. It really makes you focus in on what is our purpose, what’s our why, if you will, and helps us zero in on those goals that we have for each and every individual student. And I think that’s really important. I think that once you can feel that that energy that comes from that you want to be a part of it. You can’t help but be a part of something that’s so positive and has that energy that you can’t help but do your part to be a part of that swing.
Wendy: I love that you’re talking about that energy piece. That’s something that I think we’re really trying to infuse in our district is just a level of enthusiasm and helping people see that we are involved in a great work and that if we keep working together, we’re going to be able to make really great things happen. You have a wall hanging that is tied to this book, so tell me a little bit about what’s hanging on your wall in your office and how the book inspired that and how you use that daily?
Darrell: Yeah, I, you know, it was something that was just really important to me. And I remember reading the book and I remember and if I think about it, it can be emotional right? So I remember a quote in the book and I remember highlighting and encircling. And there are a lot of great things in the book, but this one always stuck out. And if you don’t mind, I want to read just a little bit of it, if that’s ok?
Wendy: Please, that’d be great.
Darrell: “It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by anyone out of sync with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and exit the water at precisely the same instant, 16 arms must begin to pull, 16 knees must begin to fold and unfold. Eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward. Eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minuit action, each subtle turning of wrists must be exactly by each oarsman.”
And me reading that meant something. You had that picture in your mind. And so you think about all of the employees in our, in our district, getting up, going to work, going in their classrooms, being accountable to each other, looking their students in their eyes. And then down at the end it says
“Only then does pain entirely give way to exaltation. Rowing then becomes a kind of a perfect language. Poetry. That’s what a good swing feels like.”
We’ve heard of the thing “the runners high.” I’m not a runner, Superintendent. You claim to be a runner. I know you get up at 3:00 every morning and run. I’ve never had that runner’s high. And those of you that are listening, when you see me in person, you’ll understand that I’ve never had that runner’s high. But I know you’ve had that runner’s high, and that’s similar to the swing. It’s just something you feel and it’s who you are, and that’s what brought them the success that they were able to achieve. And that’s really what we’re trying to achieve as a district, right? Is this idea that every single one of us has to come together and you give up a little bit of that individual emphasis to work together as a group, as this team that we’re trying to do really great things for students. One of the reasons why we chose the book, The Boys in the Boat, is because we really thought it was something that our entire community could rally around. It isn’t just something that is for our employees, just for teachers, just for Cabinet. It really is something that our students can get involved with. There’s an adolescent version of the book for our middle school and upper elementary students. There’s also a picture book that is going to be coming out. There’s a movie that’s coming out in December of the book.
And we felt like that this theme was something that really ties to Provo. I mean, we’re a unique school district in that we’re tied to our city. And so this is really something where we can come together as a city and a community to bring our swing together. I think one of the things that’s really important is that in this book, we have these individuals who figure out that it doesn’t matter how good you are as an individual, it only matters how good you are when you work with everyone else. And that’s what we have to figure out, not only as a school district, but we have to figure that out as an entire community. How do we work with our city officials? How do we work within our county? How do we work within our neighborhoods? How do we all come together in that process to make sure that we’re all on the same page and that we’re working towards the same goals? And so I’m hoping that this book will have that ability to bring us all together and to help us think about how great we can be when we think beyond ourselves and think about that we’re part of a larger team that can make really great things happen.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, individually, they probably weren’t the best rowers in the world. Right.
Darrell: You know, they weren’t they weren’t the best athletes. But what they were is they were the best team. And that’s what we want to be in Provo City School District.
Wendy: I really appreciate you taking the time, Assistant Superintendent Jensen, to come and chat with us this afternoon and talk with us about our theme. And we hope that people will join us in reading the book Boys in the Boat.
Darrell: Hey, I just want to wish you, you know, the superintendent taking over the district. Thank you for all you’ve done for the teachers and the principals and the staff This year to get us off to a great start. It’s been great.
Wendy: Thank you. I have a great team. We have a great team. We’re working together to do some really great things for kids. That’s been a great start to an awesome school year.
Darrell: Good luck.
Wendy: Thank you.
So thank you for joining me for this episode of What’s Up with the Sup’. As always, we will have this episode posted on Spotify, YouTube and the district website. And if you have any topics or questions you would like us to discuss on the podcast, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And don’t forget to join us for a very special episode next Friday, August 25th. I will be joined by three students from our district to discuss how the first days of school have gone and what they are most excited about for the school year. And I think this will be a great episode to have as we’re kicking off our Timpview and Provo football game that evening. So join us next week, Friday, August 25th, for our upcoming episode. Thank you and have a great day.