Weeding For Eisenhower – by T.D.Johnston

Franklin Redstone was the eldest of local real estate magnate and boat dealer Harold Redstone’s three sons. A graduate of Saxby Academy, Franklin had recently been promoted by his father to the post of President of Redstone Marine. Franklin was very proud of this accomplishment; often over lunch or a cold one at the 19th Hole he would quietly and modestly let companions know that forty-three is a young age for CEO’s. As Saxby Academy’s new chairman of the board of trustees, he felt further compelled to share that his education was the number one factor in his meteoric rise to the top of Redstone Marine, aside of course from his Protestant work ethic. His four children were Lower School students at Saxby Academy, and he was proud to see them following in his footsteps as an achiever.

Franklin had joined the board only a month ago, at the request of his friend, Senator Bill LeGrande, who had complained that the time that the senator was spending in Washington was affecting his oversight of the Academy. The senator explained that he was stepping down from the board due to attendance requirements, and wanted a leading alumnus like Franklin to take his place, especially to keep an eye on the new headmaster, who already in some folks’ minds was behaving as if it was his school. Franklin had agreed that folks who moved to Banfield from Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, New York and such places needed careful watching. Paul Garrett seemed like the poster child for intrusion on the Banfield way of life and the order of things. He was becoming too popular too quickly, and if families like the LeGrandes, Redstones, Taskills, and other leading and historic clans didn’t come together to keep watch over the preservation of the order of things, the yankees and the Atlantans (same difference) would take over.

So when Jack Sculley had his heart attack three weeks ago, the senator sent an email to all the board members insisting that Franklin Redstone replace Jack as board chairman if Jack was unable to recuperate quickly from his quadruple heart bypass. After all, though Franklin was new to the board and to governance of independent schools, he was a graduate of the school and a leading business executive and therefore perfect for the role of chairman. Paul Garrett, the new headmaster, weighed in with his opinion that Jim Tankersley, the vice chair, should assume temporary leadership duties until Jack Sculley could resume the chairmanship. The headmaster’s argument was that Jack and Jim had played a key role in bringing Paul to Banfield and the Academy, and that their partnership was close and effective, as evidenced by the sharp increase already in enrollment, gifts to the school, and the positive responses to the swift and broad changes the new headmaster had made since July 1st.

The senator’s email prevailed. Jack Sculley was thanked profusely by the board for his service as chairman, received a beautiful Academy rocking chair engraved with his name and dates of service, and was prayed for fervently by everyone on the board for a full and complete recovery. Jim Tankersley resigned in response to the snub. Franklin Redstone recognized the awesome responsibilities which came with chairmanship, and so he sent a letter to all the school’s families sharing the board’s commitment to running the school in the tradition which had been established by the founders in 1965. In the letter he said “The buck stops here, so feel free to bring any complaints directly to me or to other leaders on the board. We are here for you!”

This Garrett fellow had responded to Franklin’s letter with two comments which Franklin felt were out of line, but he had decided that as a leader he would generously tolerate disagreement, just as he did with his boat salesmen at Redstone Marine. The headmaster’s first comment had been to “remind” Franklin that the headmaster, not the board, is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the school, and that complaints, “all of them,” should be directed to the educators at the school. Garrett’s second comment had been that some of the traditions established in 1965 were reasons why the school had struggled so mightily in recent times. The headmaster obnoxiously went on to add a pile of drivel about some short story called “The Lottery” as meaning that we should “examine our traditions” to make sure they’re worth keeping. Franklin had briefly considered finding the story somewhere and reading it, but decided instead, as a good one-minute manager, to ask his egghead cousin Hank if he knew the story. Hank said yeah, and that he read it in eighth grade, and it was a stupid story about people in a town killing a citizen every year with a bunch of stones. Hank had made the honor roll every year at the Academy in the early 1980’s, and he said he never heard any damned thing from the teacher about the story having something stupid to do with examining your traditions.

“Sounds like bullcrap to me,” said Franklin.
“It’s bullcrap,” said Hank.

So Franklin avoided wasting his time on the stupid story. Instead, he saw that the headmaster was out of touch with Banfield, and resolved to keep the close watch that he had promised to the senator, to the senator’s wife Tandy, and also to the community.
It was this resolve that brought Franklin Redstone to his meeting with the headmaster a full ten minutes early. He strolled casually past the receptionist’s desk. She asked him to have a seat while she notified the headmaster that he was here, but Franklin saw that the headmaster’s door was open, so he said he would go ahead and pop his head in. After all, at Redstone Marine if he said he would pop his head in, that meant he would pop his head in. There was no reason why it should be different at the Academy.

When he got to the door, he saw Paul Garrett typing at his desk overlooking the front entrance to the school. The board chairman rapped twice on the oak. The headmaster swiveled in his black leather chair.
“Franklin! Come on in and have a seat.” The headmaster rose from his chair, glancing once more at the computer screen as he did so.
“Sorry I’m early, Paul,” said Franklin Redstone as he sank into one of the captain’s chairs arranged in a semicircle facing the large leather sofa.
“Not a problem,” said Paul Garrett, sitting down in a chair next to a book-lined wall.
“So…” said Franklin. “You got my email.”
“I did. Both of them.”
“So we’re clear.”
“About what?”
“About the records and the apology.”
“You mean I wasn’t clear?”
“Your clarity was fine. But the boys are pulling weeds together as a productive consequence. There was never anything going into their records, Franklin. They met with me, we had a great conversation, and they’re fine kids who needed a chance to learn something about how we don’t treat other human beings. There will be no apology, as there is none due. I hope this is clear, and I hope I have your support.”

Franklin looked the headmaster in the eye, the way he did when one of his employees at Redstone Marine needed adjustment. The headmaster returned his gaze, annoying him with a stare that seemed a bit inappropriate to Franklin.

“Paul, you have no right to discipline these boys over something that happened at home. I expect you to drop this thing and tell Mary George and the kid that you’re sorry. Any way you want, though. I want to help you out on that one. Any way you want. Letter, email, phone call, you name it. Fax, even.”

“If I owed them an apology, Franklin, I would deliver it in person, and it would be genuine. But let me share this with you. You said, as Mary George did, that this happened at home. That misses the point educationally. This happened at night. The fact that the boys were using their computers to bully, disparage or embarrass each other so cruelly is merely incidental. They are fellow citizens at this school and in the community, and they need to learn now, right now, that this behavior is not acceptable. I would be remiss as a teacher if I were to ignore this behavior and excuse it simply because these boys sent these profane and unkind messages from home rather than from or at school. Really, this is a time when support from the board is critical, Franklin. We don’t know each other well yet, not like Jack Sculley and I do, but this is a prime example of when a board must back the headmaster.”

“Let’s get something straight, Paul,” said Franklin, more than a little peeved at this outsider’s inability to see the order of things in Banfield. “This is our school. You serve at our pleasure. You seem to misunder—”
“This is the community’s school, Franklin. I apologize for interrupting you, but this is not your school. It is not Mary George Taskill’s school. This isn’t the senator’s school. I work as the board’s one employee, and for no board member individually. Everyone else here works for me. All teachers and all staff work for me. All students work for their teachers and for their parents, as they gather the growth and wisdom that comes with being a quality human being. This issue of these boys behaving cruelly and crassly from computer terminals or smartphones instead of the lunch line threatens to diminish their development as quality human beings, if we fail to educate them at this teachable moment, and if their parents fail to do the same in partnership with the school. Frankly, Franklin, this is why trustees go through orientation prior to becoming trustees. I need and expect your support.”

The headmaster crossed his legs so comfortably that Franklin felt his blood boil. What an impudent gosh-damned Atlanta jackass. This was the problem with Banfield these days. All these know-it-alls moving to town telling you what to do and how to raise your children. This son of a bitch needed a major attitude adjustment. These Atlanta jackasses probably called it a “comeuppance” or some such.

“So you’re not going to apologize?” Franklin asked in a tone which he hoped conveyed trouble for Paul Garrett.
“Not for doing my job.”
Franklin leaned forward. “You’re deliberately disobeying a board directive, Paul.”
The headmaster uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. Franklin could have punched him in the face.
“There is no board directive, Franklin. You would have to call a board meeting, establish a quorum, introduce a motion, and cite policy in discussion prior to a vote to change the board by-laws to state that the board runs day-to-day operations of the school, including the character education of the students. Is that what you want to do? Or do you want to support my authority and judgment in teaching children that kindness and respect are expected at all times, even when sitting in their bedrooms writing to and about each other on such a public platform as Facebook. Go ahead. In the meantime,” said the headmaster as he rose to his feet and extended his hand, “I have much to do before the end of the school day.”

Curious, Franklin Redstone stood, hating the fact that he was a few inches shorter than this Atlanta know-it-all. He shook the headmaster’s hand with every bit of strength he could muster.

“I expect you to follow the directive I gave you in the email this morning, Paul.”
The board chairman exited swiftly, commenting to the receptionist that he hoped she would have a good afternoon. He was out the door before he could hear her response, his cell phone receiving a flurry of punches en route to his cream-colored Escalade.

Final- Part 3- Read Here