Thursday, January 10, 2002

Cape adults ponder school ethics

Published in the Current

The Cape community strove to identify itself in words Monday night as 30 parents, teachers and administrators gathered to discuss standards for ethical and responsible behavior in the schools and in the community.

Superintendent Tom Forcella began the meeting, held at the cafetorium shared by the middle and Pond Cove Elementary schools, by explaining that the process is mandated by the state’s learning results act, requiring local districts to develop codes of conduct, including behavior standards and procedures for handling those who break the rules.

But it’s wider than just a required document, Forcella said. “There should be something (in the code) that we all believe in as communities,” he said. It fits in well, too, with the district’s future direction planning process.

The turnout wasn’t all that Forcella had hoped. “It would have been nice if we packed this cafetorium,” he said. But the group was big enough to take the first step in the process, which will include continued discussions with staff, students, administrators and the public.

School Board Chairman George Entwistle began facilitating a group discussion, reprising a role familiar from his day job. He split the audience up into five small groups, each with about six people, sitting at separate lunch tables in the room.

They had to come up with, and share with the group, five to eight values, in single words, that would be engraved above the doors to each school.

People at the tables talked about courage, curiosity, tolerance, acceptance, kindness, trustworthiness, consistency, industry, intra-dependence, service, risk-taking, sincerity, love, hope, commitment and equity, among many other things.

As the lists were compiled, they were read aloud to the whole audience. The overall list filled two large sheets of paper in the front of the room.

Then Entwistle challenged each table to come up with its own list of five to eight words that were “values essential to being an ethical person,” and the discussion broadened and deepened, exploring words, values and meaning.

“Is perseverance really a value?” one person asked, suggesting commitment might be a better word for what she wanted to see in her community.

“A lot of these words overlap,” was a common theme. People had to choose words that fit together to form a coherent picture, and didn’t duplicate each other.

The audience then came back together to discuss the words they agreed on as a group. Respect and responsibility were unanimous, and compassion, honesty, courage and fairness were frequently mentioned.

But the real discussions were about the decision between justice and fairness, and honesty and integrity.

“We’re a nation of laws,” said School Board member Jim Rowe.

Those laws aim at ethical behavior, so justice was the word he supported.

But others disagreed. “Sometimes equal is not fair,” said one mother.

Middle School Principal Nancy Hutton wanted to choose words that had power, like integrity, she said.

But some people were concerned that it was a word many elementary school children wouldn’t know. “It’s a great word to teach them,” said one.

High School Principal Jeff Shedd suggested humility be added to the list. “It’s a good word for Cape Elizabeth,” he said, adding “it’s presently a weakness.”

The final exercise of the evening was defining the actions associated with each of the values on the final list, which had seven words: respect, humility, responsibility, honesty, compassion, courage and fairness.

The discussions have only begun in Cape Elizabeth, and the wheels of thought are turning as all members of the community consider the values they support above all others, the ones which might, someday, be engraved in stone above the school doors.