This Is A Time To Support Our Schools, Not Attack Them

Public education has recently moved to the center of the nation’s agenda. There is an increased and intense focus on what is being taught in our nation’s schools and what that means for our nation’s children and our future. Under normal circumstances, I would cheer this news. The quality of public education in any given community impacts and shapes the conditions of that community as much as any other variable, including employment level, health care availability, access to childcare, affordable housing, and more. Education attainment levels, the engagement of the student population in effective learning, teacher development, the time parents put into supporting public schools through the PTA, and athletics are all community-building. The levels of resources to support quality education in public schools impacts the conditions of the community in which the schools reside.

Unfortunately, support for the PTA, teacher development, educational attainment, and adequate resources are not the issues currently receiving the lion’s share of attention.

Instead, the last 12 months or so have witnessed an ongoing attack on educators with regard to discussing issues of race, religion, and sexuality in schools. I am not aware of any major shift in direction in teaching that would justify the assault on the teaching profession that we see now. However, I am aware of continuing inequities and disparities in access to quality education and in academic attainment levels. And both of those issues strongly suggest that we need to pay more attention to the effective use of our resources for quality education.

I strongly recommend that individuals who want to address these real and important education issues in their local schools take action and get involved. One way to do that is by running for a seat on the local school board. This is not work to be taken lightly or to be underestimated. The work of school board members is arduous, and it is complex, and requires commitment and preparation.

Just as people prepare to create their March Madness brackets by researching the basketball teams, parents and others interested in serving on a school board need to do their research. Find out about the district budget and the adequacy of the numbers of teachers in the district. What is the retention rate for teachers? How can the district attract more teachers? What can it do to maximize resources? These are the questions community members should be asking.

Qualified school board members are those who have a demonstrated ability to work well with others, an understanding of financial management (including complex financial management), a capacity for and interest in consuming large volumes of information in short periods of time, and the ability to engage in quality analysis of that information. Finally, a demonstrated respect for the democratic processes that are foundational to local school governance and education is critical. I also believe that a school board should have some representation of people with advanced educational attainment and relevant professional experience.

Keeping a school district moving toward continual improvement for the benefit of our children is challenging work. As school board members, individuals should expect to be confronted with the unfortunate inequities and disparities in the delivery of education in their school districts — disparities that often manifest themselves in categories of race and national origin.

While the work is hard, I would encourage community members who care about education to consider serving on local school boards. Community representation — especially of people from underrepresented populations — serves the goal of equity in education and opportunity by bringing inclusiveness to the management and operation of schools and to the decision-making processes of the school board. Representation of diverse profiles of citizens — parents, single parents, employed parents, people of color, individuals with advanced education, and with business backgrounds — can only serve to improve the operations of school districts.

I recognize that not everyone who cares about education in their community has the time or the skills and expertise to serve on a school board. That should not stop anyone from supporting their local schools. By all means, anyone concerned with education should make themselves aware of who sits on the school board and who is running for it. During school board elections, inform yourself of the abilities, background, and resumes of school board candidates and focus on those best prepared to provide wise governance of the schools in your community with the ultimate goals being providing a high-quality education for our children.

When elections are not happening, there is also much to do. Engage with school leaders — meet with principals and with teachers. Contact your elected officials via email or phone, or in person, and speak with your state senator or representative about the importance of adequate education funding. Participate in an informed fashion in school board meetings. That means learning about what school boards can and cannot do and how they function to benefit local students, local schools, and the local community.

Allow me to be clear here: Decisions about the curriculum should be left to the professionals. While parents certainly should have input, the final decisions should always rest with professional educators with the skill, experience, and education to make those determinations. Community members who want to engage with education should focus on the areas that will generate the best outcomes for students: increasing resources for education and preparing students for college or a career. Improving local education requires an attitude of support towards our teachers and school administrators. This is a time to support our schools, not attack them.

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