Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to meet with Skyline Principal Mitch Nerdin in his office. Over the course of our forty minute conversation the Principal graciously answered my questions, shared his own perspectives and then recommended ways he believed an in boundary Holladay City Councilman might assist in fulfilling his school’s educational mission.

After briefly introducing myself, I shared with the Principal the concerns of some local residents that adequate safeguards do not currently exist to safeguard against a mass shooting on some local school grounds. I specifically noted Principal Anne Reese’s concerns Morningside elementary was built at a time when no one even considered the possibility of a mass killing, and as a consequence, none of the existing class room doors have been built to prevent an intruder breaking into a room. I also shared her concerns there currently is not sufficient money in her budget to make the needed upgrades required to safeguard school children from a potential shooter. I also shared the Granite Superintendent’s concerns a large number of loaded weapons are being carried by students onto schools grounds and then are being confiscated; as a result a pilot program is being developed to screen children from entering school grounds carrying loaded weapons and then questioned the principal what his own views on this subject are.

Principal Nerdin responded he was surprised to learn of Principal Anne Reeves concerns and then stated the dangers of a potential mass shooting at local schools are overblown and are statistically unlikely. The Principal indicated teachers, principals and adults are also allowed by the current legislature to carry loaded weapons onto school grounds and he seemed to imply there is nothing wrong with this. This information certainly squares with the experience of my own daughter who indicated she knows at least one of her own Skyline teachers regularly carries a loaded gun into her classroom. The principal also indicated that were a shooter to enter the school grounds, there is nothing that could be done to prevent them from shooting into a class room or through windows and he also felt the presence of gun detection devices are unnecessary because they would be disruptive to the school environment– a thoughtful point that deserves consideration in my opinion. The Principal also stated he highly doubts any of the current student body carries loaded weapons onto Skyline school grounds–though he also offered no evidence to support the claim. When pressed whether or not he believe it is appropriate for adolescent school children to be carrying loaded weapons on the school campus in any circumstances, he hesitated, but after a brief pause reiterated he highly doubts this is a common occurrence. When questioned about the new school which will open in approximately two years, he did acknowledge most modern schools are designed and equipped to address the dangers of a mass shootings in a way schools like Morningside were not originally built to address–a development he is appreciative of.

While I personally do not share Principal Nerdin’s views regarding the potential dangers of a mass shootings on local school grounds, and I believe it is important to take preventative measures before a shooting occur and not after, I appreciated the Principal forthrightness and candor and I also appreciate careful cost benefit anyalysis must be conducted to weight the relative pros and cons of any measure. The presence of large numbers of guns in our communities and even our own school rooms is also an incredibly devise issue in the State of Utah, and as a result, it is important we all find avenues to hear each other out, find common ground, and forge common solutions whenever they are feasible. Whatever the Principal’s individuals views may be, I have zero doubt either Principal Nerdin or myself desire to see any child harmed or hurt and we are both doing all we can to better our shared Utah community. Given the device nature of discussions of gun violence in our community, I have also decided to occasionally visit local shooting clubs to open up dialogue between people with different views. While I personally do not own a gun or allow them in my own home, I also understand our country has a second amendment and I have zero desire to infringe on these rights or demean those who do choose to retain weapons. In my personal opinion, there is way too much division in our country right now and as a result we all need to make an effort to build bridges and not just walls. To build these bridges, however, we have to all be willing to talk directly with each other–even when these conversations are sometimes uncomfortable and even when our views are diametrically at odds.

Next the principal and I discussed the important role played by out of boundary students in keeping all of our local schools afloat. Given the declining local birth rates and an aging population, the principal acknowledged there would be no way to keep the vast majority of our local schools open without the presence of large numbers of out of boundary students. When questioned what the needs of out of boundary students are, he indicated in the past the school had begun a food assistance programs for students who might be hungry but unfortunately the resources were rarely utilized, so the program had been scaled back. When questioned if believe the lack of use was do to a lack of hunger or due to a social stigma associated from taking aid, the principal indicated he suspected it was both.

When questioned what it what it was I could do to assist his school if elected, the principal stated directly he desired local elected official rally local religious leaders and help bring them directly into the school building. Many of the problems faced by students, the principal indicated, are a result of social break downs best addressed by religious institutions and not governmental agencies. I informed Principal Nerdin next week I will be meeting with all of the major religious groups in my community, including the head of the Catholic Archdioceses, a local Jewish synagogue, a local Baptist church, the local Presbyterian Church, and several leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I also indicated I would be happy to share his concerns with these leaders and listen to each person’s views on this matter. I did also reminded the Principal that in addition to a second amendment our country also has a first amendment establishing a separation of Church and State and as a result I asked if it was it appropriate to violate the separation of church and state established in our country’s constitution. The Principal acknowledged this is indeed a problem but suggested their might be a way to bring religious leaders into the school without forcing others to participate.

Given the State of Utah is a very religious State, I also appreciate Principal Nerdin’s desire to involve religious leaders in the life of our community. While I have my own personal religious views and beliefs, however, I also have zero interest or desire to impose my beliefs on others, and as a result I am concerned efforts to bringing religious leaders directly onto school grounds may potentially violate our country’s constitution. In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for example, a religious seminary already resides directly adjacent the Skyline High School, so a part of me wonders why additional encroachments are necessary. In my own life I graduated from the American Fork High School Seminary class of 1987 and I honestly can’t ever once remember having difficulty gaining access to people with similar religious views as my own—though it’s possible times have changed. Given our community is also filled with other religions, however, I am also curious to learn of the respective views of other religious leaders in my community on this subject and discover if there are ways to assist the principal with his mission. Could a means be found of addressing the church state deprecation concerns, I would be very open to ecumenical efforts to assist local students. As is the case with guns, the presence of religious organizations in our public life is also an incredibly divisive topic in our State. As a consequence, I desire to build bridges with individuals like principal Nerdin and find points of shared interest for our shared Utah community and make contact with members of every religious community in my district.

One of my favorite parts of Principal Nerdin’s and my conversation centered around the needs of students who may not be at the top of their academic class but who also have important needs the school must address. In particular the Principal noted Skyline–just like many other schools in our State–has been devastated when members of the student body have attempted to take their own lives. While children living in poorer sections of town often experience trauma, the Principal noted, in high preforming districts like our own, students sometimes also experience severe depression when they perceive themselves as “not measuring up.” Principal Nerdin noted it is incredibly important to him to identify children who are struggling, and then provide support services to lift them up and remind them just how incredibly important and valuable they are to our shared community. Not every student gets to be the quarterback of the football team or captain of the debate team who is admitted to Harvard. The success of the Skyline community, the principal noted, depends not only on creating high preforming students but also addressing the needs of ALL Skyline students, whatever their respective needs may be. The Principal also noted many of the programs he advances inside the school are designed to buttress and shore up the emotional support provided to students and provide them with tools to create a proper attitude and outlook that will enable them to succeed–and even soar.

Another point that Principal Nerdin and I found common ground with, was over the issue of individual responsibility and the importance for students to have an appropriate outlook and attitude helping them succeed in their own life. Principal Nerdin, regularly writes inspirational messages to not only the students but also distributes them to parents–messages that I receive and read regularly, given my own daughter is a student at Skyline High school. While I personally believe none of us should take for granted the structural advantages we sometimes enjoy in life, I also believe in hard work and doing all one can do to take responsibility for ones own life and one’s own actions. People with a “can do attitude” and a proper outlook on life often times are more likely to succeed. In my own life, for example, I was raised by a stone mason and I was taught from an early age, the worst sin any human being can commit is to not work hard or try with all one’s might.

At the conclusion of my conversation with Principal Nerdin, I can honestly say I like the man and should I be fortunate enough to earn the votes of the citizens of Holladay Utah, District 4, I desire to partner with the Principal and assist him with fulfilling the school’s mission. I can also say with certainty, while I can tell Principal Nerdin and I sometimes have slightly different views on some subjects, I find his views understandable, coherent, and thoughtful. In my personal opinion, what our country and our State need more than anything are individuals willing to speak openly and candidly with each other and engage in real life dialogue and not just canned speeches and pre packaged photo ops.