President's Corner

And So the Story Begins …




When I ran for president of AASA, the individuals who introduced me at public events diligently practiced the pronunciation of the community in which I live: O-con-no-mo-woc. Since moving here a dozen years ago, I have learned not only how to pronounce the name of this wonderful city, I’ve also learned much about the area and its residents, both past and present.

NeudeckerPatricia E. Neudecker

Oconomowoc is a lovely community of 28,000 residents in southeastern Wisconsin. It was the area’s abundant natural resources that attracted its first-recorded settlers, members of the Potawatomi and Winnebago tribes. Deep woodlands and clear lakes provided the tribes with wild game, fish and the raw materials to build their tools and homes, and it was they who named the area Coo-No-Mo-Wauk, or “where the waters meet.”

Located halfway between the metro areas of Milwaukee and Madison, the region looks quite different from the days of early settlers, but the residents still value its beauty and rich history.

We all have much to learn from history, especially the history of our communities and our schools. Knowing what and who came before us can help us better understand who we are today.

As is true with most cultures, the first inhabitants of Coo-No-Mo-Wauk relied on storytelling to teach about and pass their legacy through the generations. I am not sure of the actual tribal origin of the following story I share with you, but I know you will be able to imagine it coming from just about any area of our country and that you will see the value in the message.

And so the story begins …

An old Native American grandfather was telling his grandson that within every person there live two wolves. The grandfather went on to explain that the two wolves are always in conflict, and therefore the wolves are constantly doing battle.

One wolf, the grandfather described, is evil and disohonest and feels anger, envy, sorrow, regrets, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, superiority and ego. The other wolf is good and has joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, faith, courage, honor and integrity.

The young grandson sat patiently as he imagined the two wolves at battle. Then the boy asked, “Which wolf wins the battle, Grandfather?” The wise grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”

So what message does this story have for school system leaders? School leaders are faced with many choices every day, yet perhaps the most important choice we all make is the same choice the old Native American conveys in his story: We choose how we see and interact with the world around us.

We all must deal with conflicting forces in our lives, in our work and, yes, even in our own heads. We may not be able to control all of these forces, but the one we are able to control and are ultimately responsible for is our own attitude.

Our schools need strong leaders who choose and convey a message of hope and optimism through a positive attitude. Regardless of current politics, economics, public opinion, inaccurate information and media hype, the real story of American public education must be told by those who know it best, the people who strive every day to deliver the promise of an education for every child we serve.

The colleagues I meet through AASA are those kinds of people. They know the history of public education, they choose their attitude, and they tell the rich story of their schools and communities. I look forward to serving as AASA president this year, and I especially look forward to feeding the right wolf!

Patricia Neudecker is AASA president for 2011-12. E-mail: