Monday September 18, 2007
Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby is known by her neighbors and colleagues and friends as a high achiever. She landed the role of Assistant Principal at Glen Este Middle School in Cincinnati, Ohio where most people predicted she would be a principal herself before long.
Early in the morning, Thursday, September 6, 2007, signs of the looming heat wave were evident. The nattily dressed school administrator pulled her Mercedes SUV into the regular slot in the school lot, gathered her things and walked briskly into the main entrance and then made a crisp turn down the buffed-up linoleum floor on to her office. There were the usual greetings along the way.
Today was a high pressure day. Later that morning she would make a formal curriculum presentation complete with PowerPoint and handouts to the entire teaching staff. She was poised, informed, humorous and energetic. The attendees all took notes.
It was well after the lunch break, into the afternoon, almost time for Ms. Slaby to gather her things and call it a day and head home. A frantic staffer burst into the room with news that would change the Vice Principal’s life forever.
“There’s a baby strapped into a car seat outside!” she cried. “She’s not moving… It’s a black Mercedes SUV… It’s really hot out there!” That’s when Brenda’s heart stopped. She would have doubled over if not for the instinct to grab her keys and race out the door. But it was too late.
Cecelia. Child care. “Oh my God! In the morning rush, I didn’t make the stop…” her thoughts shifted into over-drive as she sprinted toward her parked car.
The oversight will haunt her as long as she lives. In the early compilation of that daily checklist, a super-human checklist, it was all there. But one entry was left undone. In the rush, she never once thought about her little girl back there tucked away in the blankets.
Cecelia, age two, lay still. Authorities would surmise later that temperatures inside under the glaring heat of the late summer Ohio sun reached as much as one hundred forty degrees. A 911 call brought medics to her side within minutes, but the blistered, discolored body of the little girl failed to respond. She was pronounced dead by the Hamilton County Coroner a short time later. An autopsy would confirm it – no evidence of foul play. The searing, suffocating heat would be registered as the cause of death.
Now authorities would be left to determine if any criminal charges might be filed against the popular Vice Principal, a teacher of teachers, a former head of the music department, mother to two other children. “I’ve never seen a case like this,” confessed the District Attorney.
If you are a parent, you know how quickly things can go wrong. At the end of most days, you marvel that everyone is safe and sound and at rest.
Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby sat in interrogation room of the police department. Officers were required to take a statement. The video-taped conversation made its way to the public airwaves. The painful torment of a mother, a good mother, is too agonizing to watch.
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We high-achievers put too much on the list. We miss appointments. We overlook phone calls. We skip over e-mails. We get home and remember too late a stop we intended to make. We become accustomed to great expectations falling short of the mark.
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On this Monday morning. You are a leader.
We are looking at our checklist for the week. Maybe you’ve already done your Monday morning planning. You’ve got your priorities set. You know what you want to accomplish.
Ms. Slaby set out like every morning with her errands in mind. As she gathered her things for a full day – the photo-ready notes and the jump-drive she prepared the night before after the children were put to bed – she loaded up the car and headed out into traffic and her mind went to the speech. The presentation. Did she get it all? Rehearse the introduction. She reviewed that checklist of hers for that fateful morning playing and replaying it in her mind. Perhaps she answered a call as she drove. Maybe she stopped at Starbucks for a latte.
But one stop got missed. The most important stop of all. No do-overs.
Stress eclipses life. All those things that mattered so much at seven in the morning vanished like a vapor.
Let’s take a look at that list this morning, you and me. Let’s thin it out. Let’s make a few deletions. Let’s think about the things that matter the most. Better – the people who matter most.
We’ll pray for Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby. For the loss of little Cecelia. For a school district thrown off balance.
And then let’s pray over our list.
We’ll reflect for a moment about the potential consequence of missing the most important of them all.
Copyright Kenneth E. Kemp 2007