Many communities are fighting to save their public schools. When the administrators and elected board members interface with their communities to pass bond issues or stop the drain of students pulled away by partial schools, they assume everyone knows they are fighting for kids. That must be the reason they don’t focus on education issues. They focus on the things they deal with and understand. Years ago I heard an administrator observe, “We focus on buildings and permanent things. The kids? They’re just passing through.”
Specific information from teachers about the strengths and the needs of the educational programs are too often left out of the messages given to the community. When a bond issue fails, or enrollment drops, there is great concern that the community does not support its schools. Yes, in difficult economic times folks are reluctant to vote for new bonds. Voters need to know that student needs will be met by their vote. Districts need to counter the claims of partial schools and be very clear about what they offer.
The reality is that the public will not support district schools that fail to communicate the education benefits they provide, and the needs teachers identify. Partial (alternative) schools succeed where the district schools do not explain the wealth of advantages they deliver for every child.
Voters will support necessary services for children when they understand how this extra burden of taxation helps kids. Not kids five years from now, but kids in school now. In my book, Unscrewed, The Education of Annie, I shared one of the most devastating replies a superintendent made to parents concerned about the lack of an effective math program. The Superintendent, filled with righteous indignation, replied, “For your information we are working on that. In five years we will have one of the best math programs in the state.” The parents replied, “But our children are in school now. They won’t be here in five years.” That exchange broke the bond between parents and the district school. Almost all of those parents found partial schools as alternatives.
When a partial school can suck students away from a district school, something is very wrong. District schools have elected school boards, certified teachers and administrators, the ability to raise capital dollars through bonds for building and maintenance (and not have to use instructional dollars to create a school space), and comprehensive curricula. It is almost certain that teachers are not being listened to. It is an indicator that the immediate needs of children are only assumed to be known by those interfacing with the community.
District schools must provide information necessary for parents to decide which school best provides all of the options their child must have. If parents take their children out of district schools it is certain that they do not know the differences between a district school and a partial school, or even what comprehensive curriculum, teacher certification, and teacher expertise and experience mean for students. District schools must keep this information before the public.
Increasing class size, eliminating experienced and proven teachers and counselors, deleting services, closing libraries, killing art programs, using TFA and other cheap, unskilled class-sitters, and assuming that fear (high stakes testing and its inherent threats) motivates human beings, destroy public support for district schools.
Classroom teachers have long been denied a seat at the community table. When a district involves experienced teachers in planning, and in communicating with the public, the community becomes aware of the issues limiting the education program our tax dollars are supposed to provide. When they have this understanding, they support district schools.
In summary, all educators and elected board members must continually educate their community as to the needs of children currently in district schools. The responsibility of the administration, board members, and teachers is to relate capital needs to instructional needs, and show how children will be better served. Their emphasis must be on education issues. Their focus must be on children.