Saturday, March 17, 2012
What do you think is going on to draw such a crowd? You'd look at this shot and think it was an awards banquet or speech contest. Would you ever in a million years guess school board meeting? That was what I thought, too, as I walked into our gym. Hundreds of people-- best guess is 600-- showed up for a school board meeting to express our love and concern for our schools. Six hundred people came to a school board meeting. As a government teacher, I was pretty pumped. As a community member, I was encouraged. As a teacher at this school, I was overwhelmed.
This meeting has caused hard feelings on all sides of the issue, and that makes me incredibly sad. For me, this hasn't been about 'us vs. them' in the least-- and it is bad for all of us that that is what it's becoming. But I want the same thing for the neighboring high school and it's students that I want for ours: local control and all the benefits that come from small schools. Research supports it, but our proof is in the graduates. Both of our schools have sent kids off to top notch colleges, ready for the challenges their futures hold. We've sent kids who were considered 'at risk' for not graduating into the community college system with their high school diplomas in hand. We both do very good things, and that has benefited all of us. To me, a potential budget savings of only 1/15th of the shortfall is just not worth risking losing our small schools. Our budget it tight, there's no doubt about it: but a proposal such as this should be the last option, brought forth after all other options have been implemented. Closing schools and/or reconfiguring them damages the community as a whole in so many ways, and much of that impact continues on for decades after the event. The pros have to significantly outweigh the cons, and I dont' think they do for us right now.
I lost my community district 6 years ago, and I regret voting for that merger every day. My kids are still getting a solid education, but some of what we lost can't be easily measured or documented. There was a solid safety net under all of our kids; when they graduated from our k-8 district (one campus with one class per grade level) they went onto high school with confidence in themselves, an ability to get along with anyone, and a depth of creativity to 'make it work' in any situation. They had years of practice on all those skills, and we always had students in the Top Ten from each high school to which we tuitioned kids, which shows their academic skills got some use, too. When we merged in with our current district, I watched some of those opportunities fade away as we we exposed to more tangible ones: my children may now have tech ed and IA opportunities, but I'd trade those in a heartbeat for them to have the opportunity to truly learn to accept their classmate's strengths and weaknesses. Those kinds of skills take you far in life, no matter what you choose to do or where you choose to live. What we gained in that merger does not even come close to equaling what we lost.
Regardless of how you fall on this issue, you can't deny that people in this community care about our education system. I think more people came to this board meeting than voted in the last gubernatorial election. No matter what else you think or feel about this topic, those numbers are impressive. If we can harness that energy into positive action, imagine how amazing our schools could become...