I spent the last 2 ½ days with school board members from across the state. School board members (seven per school district) are elected and serve free of charge to their communities. School board service is a significant commitment and can be quite draining when difficult situations arise and need to be dealt with. It is always a pleasure to be at this conference with nearly one thousand other volunteers and their administrators looking to improve education for our state’s kids.
I have been attending for nearly twenty years, the last eight as a board member. The focus and attitude of this gathering has shifted tremendously for the better, especially in the last five years. There has always been a focus on increasing student achievement and addressing problems in our schools. In recent years some massive systemic changes have come to the fore that are giving boards specific targets and methods to really move our state’s schools forward. A couple of these are MSIP5 and the Baldridge Continuous Improvement Model. These outstanding initiatives are making a difference for students across the state. The change takes time but it is clearly evident in scores, college performance numbers, and the sense of purpose and hope in our state’s education leaders this weekend.
There is another wave in education that has been taking hold and becoming a theme this last year. The idea of a school as a leader in the community is becoming the theme of so many sessions at MSBA, and a point of focus across the state. Most would readily recognize schools as important to their community, but the expanded role schools are expected to play in social services, health, meals, and special education have made them critical to our kids’ futures.
In the past, prior to government assumption of all of these responsibilities, many services were provided by churches and other community groups. Healthcare, orphanages, benevolence, disaster recovery, counseling, family planning, education, job training, all of these were not typically a government function. Throughout the 20th century one by one these organizations sought government funding and assistance at times of distress, others were moved into the government fold, and a few were taken over by government because they had assumed similar services. Because of this a natural disconnect as developed between communities and the government functions that are so critical to them. In recent years a large segment of the population distrusts these services categorically and feels they interfere in their lives instead of provide benefit. Schools are in a unique position to bridge this gap and greatly improve our communities and the effectiveness of the social programs under their purview.
While I personally think it would be better to have private organizations provide these functions, they do not, and I am a firm believer in doing your very best with what you have to work with. I can also see clearly how public schools can be successful and I oppose the various efforts afoot to dismantle them. Public schools are critical to our future. Our public school system is one of the best examples of government working that we have in our country for one very simple reason: local school boards. People forget that while they are a function of government, public schools by design are an extension of the community. We have seen this clearly in Affton, where the board has remade the district by bringing in visionary staff to take the district in a positive, community building direction. Other schools are headed the same way because local citizens, not a distant Washington D.C. or even Jefferson City, tell them what to do.
Please watch this video, it is what school board members across this state believe in. Watch it a second time and understand what your schools are really striving for. Grasp the potential, restoration, and recovery of community that is possible through our schools.
It is articulated quite well in the video. An effective school supports the child, family, and the community. Each school is different because each community has different needs. Now this model includes many partnerships with churches, local business, community groups, healthcare, and other organizations. Despite arguments that schools have too much money, there is NOT enough money to do all of this in our school budgets, nor should there be. There IS enough budget to be a hub of all these activities and provide the coordination necessary for them to occur.
For this to happen, boards and administrators across the state are working at tearing down the walls that keep the community out of our schools. Just like in any situation, it takes time and effort to help people realize that the walls are down, that partnerships are possible, that we all can have an impact. This is not a dream, it is not a pleasant fiction, it is happening in the midst of all our political turmoil and down economic times.
Be encouraged, public schools are heading in the direction of a community near you!