This week was tough to be a Head of School in Tennessee. A colleague lost her life on Monday, together with two other staff members and three young students.
They died because they went to school. They died while trying to provide a safe place for students to live, grow, and learn. They died in a safe place, where their teachers and their parents sought an education that aligned with their values.
It is not lost on me that this tragedy happened at a small faith-based school and a school that is part of the same association of independent schools as mine. I became an educator like Katherine Koonce to create an environment that would provide spiritual and emotional safety and physical safety. I go to work each day, with a staff and faculty that put the needs of our students first.
As a Head of School, we are responsible for each of our students and each member of our faculty and staff. We make decisions to bring light and life into the world. We hold a responsibility of trust from each of our families to protect their loved ones, physically and emotionally. We are by and large, educators, who have had to become experts in finance, facilities, public health, and security.
We drop what we are doing when we hear a child or a staff member in need. Our doors are open to staff who need our guidance and support. We are available anywhere and everywhere for anything and anyone. No matter what.
And we do it because we love it. And on March 27, that love, that care, that trust, was put to the test in a way that none of us should ever have to experience.
And yet, each day, we do it again. All of us. Except for Katherine Koonce.
With tears in my eyes, I will be thinking of Katherine today, tomorrow, and each day.
And I will pray that we never have to be put to this test again. I pray that we will continue to work towards creating a world where our children, our teachers, our staff, and everyone can be safe, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Each week, I am lucky enough to share a message with our Memphis community, my school community, and anyone else who cares to read or listen through a podcast and email called The Spark. This week, I opened with the following words.
“I would not be doing my job effectively if I did not open this week’s Spark, by pausing for a moment to reflect on the 6 sparks, the 6 holy flames extinguished this week in Nashville. Three young students, Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, a custodian, Michael Hill, a substitute teacher, Cynthia Peak, and a Head of School, Katherine Koonce. Each represents lights that were prematurely extinguished from this world by a shooter who went into their school, a place of safety, of hope, and of lessons to take into our future.
I often reflect on a verse found in our Hallel prayers. It is sung each Rosh Chodesh, every holiday, and on the first nights of Pesach at our Seder. Min Hameitzar Karati Yah, Annani baMerchav Yah. I call out to You from the narrow confines, from a place of trouble and hurt. You answer me from the great wide open.
In fact, the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is a further reflection of this verse. Mitzrayim literally means, from the narrow sea. We crossed the sea into the vast wilderness of the desert.
In times of trouble and distress, we must cross through. We must call out. And together we can get to the other side.
I’ve spent the past several days with tears in my eyes. Calling out to God, through prayer, introspection, and in conversation with others. My answer has come from the words of our students, the song in their voices, and the inspiration of their teachers.
As we reflect on the tragedy in Nashville at Covenant School, just a few hours’ drive from Memphis, we all call out together. Let’s use the words of Bornblum’s students to bring us to the other side.”
And so, I beg of each of you, to find a way to light a spark. Find a way to use the words of our students (and by “our”, I mean that collectively, we are all responsible for the education of all children), to find inspiration. Inspiration to call out. To search for answers. And to do something to protect our future. Our children.