Entrepreneurs are commonly defined by their unwillingness to give up and their inclination to stay the course. It is especially true of my time along the Upper Delaware Valley and my hope that the …
Entrepreneurs are commonly defined by their unwillingness to give up and their inclination to stay the course. It is especially true of my time along the Upper Delaware Valley and my hope that the economic development of my efforts and others would provide the rising tide that floats all boats.
As I pick up and move my business to be more centrally located, and my residence in order to better and more safely educate my only son, I stop to reflect on my wins and losses. Entrepreneurs are also defined by their habit of overlooking their successes and fixating on their losses and shortcomings. I suppose that’s what makes us successful—that drive to improve. Catskill Farms has improved just about everything it has touched. Main Streets, small businesses, the lives of 250 homeowners, small-town tax coffers, county sales and real estate taxes, the lives of our employees and by extension their families, farmers’ markets and a host of other entities driven by the economic cross-multiplier of our day-to-day investment into our communities for more than 20 years.
I woke up with a fire in my belly to work, each day, seven days a week, for decades. I have been engaged in the community in every way that I could. With my company’s success, I created a charitable foundation to give back to the community.
But one failure gnaws at me, and that is the failure to drive the improvement of the Eldred School District to provide brighter futures for the children attending that school, and to leave those kids in the hands of administrators with narrow lines of vision.
In the abstract, there is no reason for it.
In 2008, Highland and Lumberland reassessed all properties, providing a boon for town and school tax revenue. And since 2005, with my efforts and others, there has been a constant drumbeat of new taxes pouring into the school. What has it bought us? A continued decline in scholarship, a legacy of bullying and bad behavior, elimination of arts and sports programs, a reputation that drives people away rather than draws them in. A legacy of state oversight, and low rankings. What could be a magnet school and pride of the county is instead something to avoid.
We tried. I and others shed significant reputational blood making the reasonable and common-sense case that the school can do better. We drove change, but on the precipice of real change, the school community chose status-quo safety over scholarship, peace of mind over progress.
As someone who values education above all else, I personally thought it would be simple to change. Who wouldn’t want a better education for their kids when the money is right there? Turns out, any kind of cultural change for the school district is improbable. We didn’t move the needle an inch. In fact, the academic and social results might be worse now than when we began.
The test of the soul of a community isn’t whether the kids with the well-placed parents are taken care of, it is if the kids in distress, the kids in need and the kids who are reaching out are being taken care of. From what I saw, up close and personal, those kids were being left behind without a second thought.
It’s hard to say goodbye, especially when your biggest job is left undone. Many leaders learn from failure as much as from success. I take many lessons away with me from this journey, ones I’m sure to employ faithfully in the future.
Charles Petersheim, owner of several small businesses, has been living, building and agitating in the Catskills since 2001.