Don’t Tell Me, Show Me

Posted on 27 February 2009

By Robbie Vorhaus

When I trained in karate, I once told my shihan – teacher — that I was going to earn my black belt.

“Don’t tell me,” he said sternly, “show me.”

I soon learned the true meaning of the New Testament verse, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” because try as I might, I only rose to the level of green belt, a far cry from the coveted black belt.

I thought of this recently watching the excellent Pierson Middle School performance of The Wizard of Oz.

Both my children were involved in the play; Molly as a crow and Ozian; Connor in the orchestra pit playing violin. Still, what made this play so spectacular is the incredibly high level of performance these students achieved. Thanks to director, Paula Brannon, the Pierson Middle School students performed a miracle.

Why was The Wizard of Oz production such a marvel?

Because the Pierson auditorium facility is a health hazard, embarrassingly worn out, shabby, and falling to pieces. Everything a meeting and performance space should be, the Pierson auditorium is not. On a cold winter night, the temperature soon rises to an uncomfortable level, on a warm day, the heat is unbearable, and during every performance kids continue getting sick, possibly because of poor ventilation and inadequate HVAC. I’m told in over thirty years the stage curtain has never been cleaned, and because of fire retardants used when the curtain was hung, there may be asbestos concerns.

The children still have to dangerously step over heavy chains to get on and off the stage, yet without complaint (that I’ve ever heard), Paula Brannon and producer, Melissa Luppi, along with Austin Remson, Doug Alnwick, Jayne Freedman, Zach Fischman and Eric Reynolds, as the musical conductor, produce a first-rate production. The sets were original and appealing, the costumes fun and inventive, backstage the crew operates like a well-oiled machine, and most of all, our performing students, leads, supporting characters and chorus members, are truly talented, energetic and engaged. In fact, for this show, Mr. Reynolds conducted the largest orchestra in the history of Pierson’s productions, and they sounded magnificent.

We owe the Pierson students, the district and our community more than this run down theater. By anyone’s yardstick, the Pierson auditorium is sub-standard. A school’s meeting and performance space is a symbol, a metaphor, for how we present ourselves, and our children, to the world.

Dr. John Gratto, Sag Harbor School’s superintendent, informs me that $40,000 is budgeted in the 2009-2010 budget for replacement of the auditorium curtain, and it can’t come too soon. In an email, Dr. Gratto also said a new lighting panel has already been purchased, and that a new sound system will be purchased within the next couple of weeks. Dr. Gratto also said an analysis is currently underway to replace the auditorium, and that the HVAC needs are being addressed, although nothing will be done until the summer. Can we afford to wait when our students still use the space daily?

If we agree that the myriad events and other activities that take place in this space are important, then show us, and create a 21st century auditorium worthy of the talent and commitment we’re consistently shown by our teachers and performing students.


It’s time to find common ground and agree on the Sag Harbor teacher’s contract. Over the past several months I’ve come to know and like our new school superintendent, Dr. John Gratto, and I believe his intentions are in our district’s best interest. I am also privileged to call Eileen Kochanasz, the president of TASH, a friend and an incredibly compassionate and professional guidance counselor, and, I believe, she and TASH also want what is best for our district. Yet these two leaders, and the constituencies they represent, are still negotiating an impasse.

I wish I had a magic wand I could wave over the teachers and the school board to make everyone happy. I know from experience if we brought in two objective, non-emotional and detached parties to iron this out, the contract would be negotiated over night. Or, if we let my wife, Candace, handle it, neither side would be allowed to sleep, watch TV, play on the computer, or have dessert until the issue was settled. Trust me, this works, and not just for kids.

My suggestion, which is far too naïve, is to choose kindness over being 100% right, remember why we’re doing this – hey, it’s the children, remember! – and let’s start being creative versus competitive. If you guys really believe in what you’re saying, stop telling us and show us: ratify a teacher’s agreement and let’s spend the saved time on having some fun and building a world-class school district together.

And while I’m on the “don’t tell us, show us” soapbox: will some police organization please solve the Labor Day murder in North Haven.

If the person everyone believes committed the murder is guilty, then there’s still a murderer on the loose. And if it’s not that person, there’s still a murderer on the loose. Which means, at the end of the day, whoever committed the murder was incredibly smart and professional, or the police department in charge of the inquiry somehow bumbled their own investigation, or they are not equipped, experienced or committed enough to solving this murder. And why aren’t any county and local leaders weighing in on this unsolved, heinous murder of a 100-year-old women who clearly did not commit suicide?

Please stop telling us we’re safe and that we have nothing to worry about, and show us by solving this murder and charging someone with the crime.

Spring is almost here. We are a unique village committed to goodness, the grace of nature, the future of our children, deep and abiding friendships, and enduring common values we hold dear. I’m confident we’ll build an exceptional Pierson auditorium, approve an acceptable teacher’s contract, and as a huge fan of our local and regional police, believe they’ll solve the crime of Jesse Burke’s untimely demise.

In our town, Sag Harbor, we won’t tell you how special we are, although we’re always happy to show you.

 North Haven resident, Robbie Vorhaus, is a writer and crisis communications consultant.

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