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A new school year

The 2009-2010 school year is about to begin in Pagosa Country, with teachers going back to their jobs next week for training and conferences, and to prepare their classrooms. Students arrive for the first day of classes the Monday following the Labor Day holiday.

The student count (officially taken for finance purposes in October) will be interesting — an indicator of the migration from the district of families with school-age children. The meaning of that number will need to be balanced by consideration of the closing of one local private school (the Our Savior Lutheran School) and its effect on the district student population. Our Savior Lutheran School — a prominent private school for a number of years —will restructure with an eye on reopening in one to two years.

Last year, Our Savior Lutheran School educated students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It is expected that as many as 15 of last year’s kindergartners at OSLS will move on to Pagosa Springs Elementary School, with 10 students expected from grades one and two and another three to four students moving to the elementary school from grades three and four.

Regardless of the eventual student count, and the state equalization funds that will attach, one thing is for certain: There will not be enough money to provide all the programs needed for a complete education system. Archuleta School District 50 JT, like every other public school system in the state, will continue to spend a major amount of its revenues in an attempt to operate successfully under the weight of the mandates of No Child Left Behind and the state CSAP program. The testing regimen will continue, the state’s economic sword will remain firm against the district’s throat, local control over education will be continually eroded.

And the results of that persistent testing, and the methods used to “educate” children in its shadow, will continue to be debated.

Another thing for certain: The pressure of CSAP demands will again put the squeeze on non-CSAP oriented instruction. Classes in the arts and music, and academic subjects not evaluated in the CSAP process, will continue to be offered at what many in the community consider a minimal level.

Also, classes that provide for exceptional academic achievement — for example, an extensive honors level program at the high school — will remain off the radar.

Fortunately, programs such as the Fine Arts Magnet Academy at the high school continue to draw on in-school and community resources to provide a higher level of arts education in a quasi extra-curricular mode, to students eager to pursue it. More efforts need to be made at the junior high, middle school and elementary school levels to enhance arts instruction, as well as district wide to implement greater levels of instruction in what were once prominent academic disciplines, e.g. foreign languages, (note the plural: languages).

The district athletic programs are preparing for upcoming seasons, and it would be gratifying to learn that fewer parents than usual will set unrealistic goals for those programs and their student athletes. Too many parents continue to put major emphasis on school sports while assigning a subordinate role to academic achievement. Such parents need to be reminded that today’s high school athletic hero is nothing more than a photo on the school wall next year and, not soon after, the name and achievement are forgotten.

Most important, as the school year looms, is an admonition to parents to engage with their student’s education in a supportive manner. Not as a so-called “parachute parent” – consistently defending a student’s poor performance and behavior — but as a partner to the school, providing a home environment conducive to the discipline and attention necessary for academic growth. Parachute parents, the kids’ pals, can’t turn off the television, won’t remove the cell phones, won’t restrict Internet use, can’t influence a child’s behavior. A partner will … and, in doing so, will provide their child with an enduring and productive gift.

Karl Isberg