I believe that Hendersonville High School can continue to be the school of excellence it has always been. But, while I am truly optimistic about the future of HHS, I think it wise to consider the words Phillip Manna wrote in an essay in the Boston Globe: “We must fight against heavy-handed bureaucratic control of our public schools which flattens the thrust of new ideas. It wipes out individual differences.”

Manna continues: “It makes it nearly impossible for individual schools to express themselves, to establish identity. What misleads us in public education is the notion that there's one type of school that can suit everybody's tastes.

“We think all we have to do is agree on it, perfect it, then somehow get all schools, all teachers to follow it.”

This feeling of ownership, essential to all good schools, can't be packaged and shipped. It is homemade. Manna states that it “forms itself only when a particular school community is given the freedom and authority to try what its members believe is best for their students.”

The derivation of the word “education” comes from the Latin words “e” and “duco”— the former meaning “out” and the latter “to draw or to lead.”

Chat Jones loved his alma mater. Often, he would speak of his school days — asking me if I remembered this person or that event.

Margaret Hunsinger Davidson, who died on Nov. 25, 2012, was valedictorian of the Edneyville High School Class of 1948. In many ways, Margaret and Chat represent the special people who have pioneered and developed Henderson County.

The North Henderson High School gym is named for Tom Pryor. His career coaching record is 702-244 (.742). According to social studies teacher Rosemary Pace (who was both a former EHS student and teacher): “Edneyville High School was the little school with the big heart in the middle of apple country. The 3,323 graduates are, and always will be, a very special family.”

From 1931-1956, Mr. C. F. Jervis awarded 522 diplomas in his role as principal and mathematics teacher of the former Dana High School. With each diploma came a handwritten verse for each graduate. He would recite an appropriate passage of poetry, often Shakespeare.

It takes a special leader to inspire and motivate a group of teenagers with the concept of team play. Etowah's Coach Clyde Peek taught team play without a gym. Coach Peek compiled a remarkable record in basketball in his seven years as Etowah's coach.

Whether or not you can clearly identify it or describe it, you know it when it happens, for it is special. It vibrates with a sense of history and tradition.

It reverberates from teachers and principals committed to challenge students to be “the best they can be.” It is revealed in victory and defeat and sharing in both. It can reach a crescendo when students witness something special.

It is a realization that all students are important, that each is special. It is struggle, support, and encouragement. It is special because each student assumes ownership.

“Together we can make it happen,” said John Marable — teacher, principal, community leader and coach at the now defunct Ninth Avenue School for black students.

Marable and his “Tigers” made it happen, over and over again. “Prof” carried that theme throughout his career. This was his legacy.

I was honored to be asked to speak at Mr. Marable's funeral. It was April 2001 — seventeen years ago. Here is what I said, in part:

“Our apple orchards are in full blossom, and, even though there has been damage due to a killing frost, the growers are still hopeful for a rich harvest in the fall.

“I know this is an occasion for brilliant phrases and praise poems, describing your work and worth, but instead I bring you an apple — with much respect and admiration.

“Let us transform today's grief into a challenge that, to use your words, ‘together we can make it happen.’

“We must commit ourselves to close the academic achievement gap so that all students, regardless of race or socio-economic background, graduate with skills for success.

“Mr. Marable, this is the letter I never wrote to you — although I wanted to. This is the conversation about the future of education in Henderson County we always intended to have, but never did. I wish we had discussed the ways today's public schools can properly educate the most diverse population in U.S. history — teach students with special needs, those whose lives are in turmoil due to divorce, family violence, substance abuse and reduced family involvement. I know these were among your concerns.

“My definition of education is ‘preparation to meet a unique situation.’

“Mr. Marable, here is your apple. I am sure that if each of your former students brought you just one apple, this church would be full to overflowing ... with apples.”