"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Mission Statement Proposal

Alpine School District's Current Mission Statement:
Educating All Students to Ensure the Future of Our Democracy

Last Tuesday, as I was entering the regularly scheduled Board Meeting, there was a very beautiful, full-color document about the Board. One-fourth of the document discusses "Education In a Democracy... What we [sic] Value". I noticed three things in this section I would like to bring to your attention.

First, the word "citisens [sic]" is misspelled. It's a shame, really, because the misspelling detracts from the message of the brochure. It is indicative of the problem of focusing on unimportant things and shying away from what is truly necessary.

Second, there are four basic principles the Board says anchor their actions. These principles approximate those listed on the district's mission statement page. They are:

1) Schools have a responsibility to teach citizenship to all students.
2) All students have equal access to educational programs.
3) School personnel have a responsibility to nuture the children entrusted to their care.
4) Everyone has a stewardship for the schools in their individual educational communities.

Since these principles are highlighted by the Board, I'd like to take a moment to go through each one.

1. Teaching citizenship. Yes, we want to teach citizenship. But, would we find it odd to say one of our principles that anchors all action is: Schools have a responsibility to teach physical education? There is a definite focus on citizenship to the exclusion of all other subjects. Why? As we get in to citizenship it begs the question of what manner of citizen? The Board was very defensive that their mission statement was questioned by parents, but when your primary focus is on a particular item, does it not necessitate scrutiny? What are those principles of citizenship? Who determines them? And do they take precedence over reading, writing, and math?

2. Equal access to educational programs. I am glad to know that ASD follows federal and state law granting equal access. Has this been a problem in the past? Do we have to work to not discriminate against certain groups of children?

3. Nurturing teachers. While we want children to have good teachers who are nurturing, I would be surprised to find that our teachers, in general, wouldn't be nurturing and inspiring without this statement. If we find that a teacher is not nurturing, is there a policy in place to remove them? Most people who go into the teaching profession do so because they are, by nature, nurturing and inspiring. They want to dedicate their lives to educating children because of the types of people they are to begin with. Goals or values or mission statements will not have a very big effect on innate personalities.

4. Stewardship. People support public education because they believe that an educated populace is a benefit to society. How does this concept impact the specific decisions of the board? This seems to be a principle for the community at large. The Board should already be focused on their stewardship for the schools.

While I agree that the Board should have basic principles in mind as each decision comes before them, I would argue that most of these items are self-evident or handled by law. The one that is not, citizenship, is the one that has come under the microscope of late. If you place your principles out there for the public, then you shouldn't be surprised when people start paying attention to them. Since we believe in local control of our schools, this is precisely what should happen. I would recommend that the Board not be defensive, but be open and welcoming of the scrutiny.

Now back to the brochure.

Third, the brochure says "Public education is the place where children have similar experiences. These similar experiences allow each to understand the democratic principle of common good vs. individual need." Does this mean common good should trump individual need or vice versa? Which would you choose? A truly democratic principle would require common good to be determined by the majority to the detriment of individual need. So, if the common good required the sacrifice of your child's individual need, this is what we are advocating by touting the word democracy in this context. Would you send your child to school to have their individual needs forfeited for the common good?

From reading this brochure, the board's (and by extension the district's) focus isn't on academics at all.

In addition, during the board's work session on July 13, there were some board members that were, reportedly, very emotional about the mission statement. It has also been stated that more than 40 meetings were necessary to come up with our current mission statement. I am perplexed that it would take that long to create a mission statement that was so emotional and yet so distant from academic education. While I don't disagree with the idea that we need morals and good citizenship, I wonder if this is truly the best use of our time and our focus as a school district and a school board?

Under the section of the brochure entitled, "Board Responsibilities", we have a much better mission statement. "We want to deliver the best possible education for the greatest number of students for the fewest possible dollars." I would add the word 'academic' or specify core classes (reading, writing, and arithmetic). But either way, this a fine mission statement. It is absent any controversy, and it conveys the actual goal that most, if not all, of our families have for their children's public education. I would be curious to know why this, or something like it, wasn't the proposed mission statement to begin with.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Transparency and Parental Involvement

As you may know, the school board had a work session on Tuesday, July 13. What is interesting is how difficult it was to find this out. Incidentally, one of the issues discussed was the controversial mission statement.

How does one find out about upcoming meetings? I went to the website. I was able to find a downloadable pdf of 2010 meetings. The only meeting in July is the regular board meeting on July 20. Someone mentioned, after the fact, that the Work Session was announced in the paper, but there wasn't anything obvious on the 'meeting' tab of the website. The school board calendar lists all of the previous events, but, as of yesterday, had nothing going forward. Today, Friday, July 16, the July 20 meeting is listed. There is nothing listed yet for August.

The next question I had was whether or not the July 13 meeting replaced the July 20 meeting. My understanding is that it did not.

In trying to figure out how to attend some of these meetings, I was told that the best way to find out would be to call the district and ask.

With all due respect, board meetings, and other public district events, should be, at least, noted on the home page of the website. The note could link to more information in other pages, but this should be one of the most important purposes of the website--communication with the public.

I am committed to making sure the district website is used as a primary communication portal. Let's make it easy for families to get involved.