June 29, 2017
I had intended to include some of this in my text to you the other day, but it got lost in my haste to get things done. Since I want you all to read it, I’ve taken the liberty of sending you along this second, and expanded, note about Justeen. Maybe it’s because it is summer and no one is here, but I want to write more about her. I hope you’ll forgive my omission and indulgence. It is certainly a letter I wish I didn’t have occasion to write at all.
I first met Justeen about six years ago now. She was an 8th grader and I was trying to figure out which direction I needed to turn to go to the odd numbered classrooms there as the new Interim Principal. As was her habit, Justeen was standing behind some of her friends with a hood atop her head. Some of the other girls introduced themselves to me after I made some bad joke about being lost. Justeen hadn’t spoken, so one of the other girls told me her name. I told her I was sure she could speak for herself and I remembered she smiled, gave the other girls a stern look and then said something like, “Yes, I most certainly can speak for myself”.
When I crossed the bridge to the high school with that class it was my turn to be able to show kids the way around the school. I was returning home to a place I had worked for many years and this class was trying not to get lost. Justeen was someone who I wanted to keep an eye on in this transition. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe her statement about not being able to speak for herself, it was just that she always seemed to hiding underneath that hood.
I know there were many times I annoyed her because I made it a habit of gently pulling off that hood when she wasn’t looking. I promise I was never mean about it and the most common response was for her to just say, “Mr. Chisum you drive me crazy” and laugh. It was always awesome to see Justeen laugh. As she got a little older, sometimes she would even leave the hood down after I had done it.
One day I remember well, Justeen had her hood down for a meeting with all her teachers to celebrate the progress she had been making recently in school. I was honored she had asked me to come as her then Assistant Principal. Justeen led that meeting herself. She recognized the speakers and she took her own notes. We were all so impressed and when we told her so, we were rewarded with that smile of hers again.
When Justeen was a senior, I don’t remember seeing that hood on her head, except maybe for some cold mornings. She was still Justeen and she had become a young woman of quiet and determined strength. Justeen was confident. I can remember how beautiful she looked at her prom and I know there is a picture out there somewhere of she and I together that I wish now I had a copy of. She absolutely sparkled that night and she sparkled again when she crossed the stage at graduation.
This past year I got to see Justeen only a few times. She came back to see our Pep rally at Thanksgiving and another time she came in to say hi to people and help her brother Nicholas out. She looked and spoke as if she were doing quite well.
The news this past week of her passing has been hard and made harder by the fact that so many of us are scattered to our summer plans. Grief is a little easier when we share it. It is challenging to not see the kids and the staff. It is challenging not to see her friends here. I always hate how quiet and empty schools are in the summer. They were built to have kids and teachers in them. Wellesley High School has been especially quiet and empty for us this week.
Please take the opportunity to talk to your kids about how this news may or may not be affecting them. If there are additional supports we might be able to help with in the fall, please do not hesitate to contact us here through the usual ways.
I wish you all a safe, fun-filled, peaceful summer.