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Time to rev the engine

An article in last week’s SUN included comments made during a meeting of the board of education that were critical of district leadership, noting a lack of “vision” and strategy — regarding, among other things, degrading facilities and an inability to convince the public to do something about them.

Other remarks highlighted erosion of academic performance. Without improvement here, the chance of selling a bond issue is dead. If you don’t do an excellent job educating a declining number of students, how can you expect more money for construction of facilities?

A comment was made that performing arts receive the lion’s share of attention and awards at the high school. Add sports. Sports heroes and “stars” dominate the day. Scientists, mathematicians? Not so much. In our standing ovation society, school shows and sporting events are too often more important than science fairs, inventions or creation of new software programs. Arts and physical education are critical. Extra-curricular activities are useful— but academics come first, behavior second. Entertainment third.

According to recent evaluations, district schools are average at best in terms of academic performance. At the same time, an astounding number of students are reported on school honor rolls. How can this be? What kind of self-esteem-driven blather can be used to erase this contradiction? Further, students who fail to turn in work at the high school cannot be given a 0 in the grade book. A student receives a mark that allows a last-ditch effort to pull a grade to passing. A significant number of graduates require remedial instruction before they can take regular college courses in many subjects.

Officials tout increased use of online courses in the education of our youngsters — this when the Chronicle of Higher Education reports 72 percent of college professors who’ve taught an online course do not believe credit should be given for the course.

We have a system in which discipline has faltered. Cell phones are allowed in classrooms with the excuse they are being used for academic work. Is there proof of this? Arrogance, unruly behavior and disrespect are tolerated to a remarkable degree, all in the name of “saving” students (i.e. keeping them in school to provide funding).

It oversimplifies the situation to hold only district faculty and staff responsible for an average system. As responsible, if not more so, are parents who do little or nothing to encourage real academic achievement and proper decorum. For many, a bumper sticker is enough; a sports trophy or the lead role is enough. Students, too, bear blame.

But, a finger should point at the district and, in particular, at elected officials.

What the members of the school board surely realize is that responsibility for the situation finally rests with them. We have a school board eager to hold celebrations, to congratulate any and all, but that might ask too few questions, make too few demands. This trend goes back to a previous board that hired an incompetent superintendent who, before his departure, destroyed morale in the district and put the system on a downward spiral. It is time for the board to rev the engine; the lack of leadership is theirs. If they want new buildings, they need to educate our children and demand students and parents behave, or be gone. The school board must lead the way in the fight for excellence in the classroom, and the first step involves a clear-eyed look at reality. Cut out the cake and cookies, the attention to statistical nonsense and trophies, and focus more intently on meaningful results. Do so, and the rest will come.   Karl Isberg

This story was posted on June 27, 2013.