23 Aug 2014
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This is ‘LINsane’!

Like basketball sensation Jeremy Lin, there are some Fairfield County residents on a roll. Some others need to be benched.

This is ‘LINsane’!

Jeremy Lin is getting international attention for his amazing play on the basketball court. Coming out of almost nowhere, he ignited a hot streak of game-winning 3-pointers, record-setting assists and Kobe-like stats.

He also sparked your attention for this article. I hope.

Because this week’s column isn’t actually about Lin’s power on the court. It’s really about two very different ways power has been used recently in Fairfield County, one to do good, and one that’s resulted in undoing much good done in the past.

Let’s start with the example of power misused. Sadly it’s a case that takes place in the town where I live,  Wilton. It’s a story of small town power grab gone terribly wrong. And the seemingly picayune news in a town like Wilton has exploded with destructive, hurtful force.

It’s a  battle for power over the PTA. I know, how strange! The PTA is such a benign organization, one whose purpose is to do good for the community’s schools: Members bring enrichment programs to the students, fundraise to help teachers stock their classrooms and volunteer countless hours in and out of school.

So really, who would want to ‘fight’ for influence over the PTA?

But over the last year in Wilton’s K-2 elementary  Miller-Driscoll School, the egos of a handful of individuals grew out of proportion to the good they were charged to do in their leadership positions on the school’s PTA, and it pushed them to fight for control and power. Power to influence administrators and other parents, power to make unilateral decisions, power to park close to the school, power to disparage others—who knows what they really wanted?

Their quest for power surged and snowballed, and conflict ensued: Grown men and women started tit-for-tat public name calling, finger pointing, gossiping, hearsay-ing, and all-around muckraking. It was ugly.

But it grew uglier, still.  Tensions overflowed at a well-attended PTA meeting held at the school the Monday morning before Valentine’s Day. At the meeting, members organized and voted to remove the PTA President and Vice President from the board, “due to non-fulfillment of job responsibilities, and other Miller-Driscoll Bylaws violations.”  Voices were raised, accusations hurled. The vote was overseen by representatives from the State PTA; school administrators were so angered by the move, they left the meeting in protest.

Everything exploded when news hit the local media, including  a letter to the editor sent by the ousted president to Patch and other outlets. It inspired more than 130 comments from readers, mostly Wilton residents who continued the online squabbling or bemoaned what had happened to their town.

I’ll admit it’s hard to write about this, as it’s playing out in the town where I live. It’s still very ‘small town.’ I’m friendly with some of the players involved, and I have a child who attends Miller-Driscoll. The repercussions could be harsh. But I had to weigh in, given that it’s so marked an event. Most of all I’m saddened that the work of some dedicated volunteers has gotten dragged through the mud. PTA parents, for the most part, are there to bolster and enrich the experience of their children’s schools, and usually want to do so without drama.

The behavior of a few has detracted from the good efforts of many others. It’s tawdry, embarrassing, and too much of a diversion. Some commenters said of the behavior, “Oh, how high school!” Other bystanders threatened to stop donating time and money to the school, and there’s now increased distrust between the parents and school administrators. It’s all just more evidence as to who really loses in this situation:  the kids.

The example these few parents have set is sad. We’re trying to teach our children about effective problem solving at the very least, and at most we want them to heed the warnings of the dangers of online bullying and indiscretion. The ripples started by these few bad apples have potentially caused significant damage, all because they’ve tried to flex their positions of power to try to gain more influence.

Contrast that bad behavior described above with the actions of some much younger county residents who put their influence to much more positive use. I’m speaking about some real high schoolers who rose to a much higher level of grace and dignity.

After an ugly online bullying incident involving students at Ridgefield High School, several students from the school took the matter into their own hands to immediately try and stop the ugliness. They took a stand by creating a campaign called “Students Against Internet Discrimination,”  launching a website and Facebook page. The effort became very organized, with media and political consultants, and word spread quickly. The students are hoping to grow the organization to other high schools and colleges around the country.

What’s most impressive is how these students took their power and influence—the power of peer pressure and their knowledge of social media—to create good will and have a positive effect.  Their stated mission says it all: “It is our goal to foster safe school communities with a zero-tolerance policy and where all students feel valued.”

As much as the PTA’s mission is similarly intended to foster community and benefit students, perhaps the adults could take a lesson from the efforts of the kids in this case.

For the sake of my town, of my friends and of all our children, I hope that the dedicated volunteers of Wilton’s Miller-Driscoll PTA can get back to work with drama no longer weighting them down.

If it takes some youngsters schooling their more experienced elders, then so be it. It’s just like on the basketball court, watching newcomer Jeremy Lin dribble circles around his elders.

Nothing but net.

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