Board must agree on schools core functions
For the sake of our youth, please find the strength to put difficult issues on the table and work through them together.
I want to thank John Hayes and Gil Jimenez for volunteering to serve on the board of our school district at such a strained moment, financially and politically.
It is courageous to step in after the highly charged recall of two previous board members. I am relieved that both gentlemen have experience in public relations.
The recent recall brought the school board to the forefront of community attention, and members will be asked to endure the spotlight. They may also be asked to serve too many masters.
I am writing today to offer my encouragement to the board, and to ask them to try to work together, stay strong and flexible, live in the present, look toward the future, and focus on serving the youth.
This will not be easy in a small town. Your neighbors, friends, and relatives are the citizens whose taxes are at stake, the contractors and district staff whose jobs are at stake, and most importantly, the youth whose education is at stake.
Many citizens in our community remember a different Forest Grove from their youth. Demographics, economics, educational laws, funding, and even curriculum content were different in those times. Not everyone understands what is happening in schools today.
Being a school board member today may feel like being a leader of a wagon train that has reached the point where heavy things must be thrown overboard if the group is to survive to reach the destination.
Some passengers may go into a panic and wrap themselves around a cast iron stove that seems so useful, yet weighs so much that the few remaining oxen cannot pull it any longer.
Some long-standing educational practices are treasures, and others are excess baggage. What must be maintained? What must be changed, replaced, or discarded?
You will hear very different answers from different members of our diverse community, but children need consistency in their lives.
The board must agree on what core functions our schools can promise to provide for all youth, and must fight to maintain these core functions even through financial turbulence.
I would like to suggest two things we should promise our youth even when finances are strained:
•Reasonable student : teacher ratios
•Clean, welcoming, uncrowded learning spaces
If we cannot at least maintain these simple standards, citizens must increasingly ask themselves why our limited public funds are being spent on this system.
As a teacher, I know firsthand that new textbooks, fancy bathroom fixtures, piles of materials and acres of mowed lawn are very nice indeed, but without enough trained staff who have time and space to work with each student, these resources are wasted.
A better education can be had on a straw mat under a plastic tarp in the middle of a construction site in New Delhi, with an effective teacher and a manageable group of students, than in an Oregon public school with too many kids and not enough good teachers.
What use is the porcelain sink, if students do not have time to wash hands with soap and water before eating?
What use are fields, if students may not play on them, due to inadequate staffing during recess and gym?
What use are libraries, computers, or smart boards if staff lacks up-to-date information sciences training?
What use is math and science lab equipment, if teachers are afraid to take it off the shelf?
If teachers do not get adequate training, preparation time, and evaluation, how can we know whether the time our children spend in school is even worthwhile?
This is an opportunity for the board to be real-life superheroes for the youth of our district. We need a board dedicated to ethical, informed, pro-active leadership.
You each have a different perspective, and at times it may take tremendous effort to reach the point where you can stand together give a unified message, but for the sake of our youth, please find the strength to put difficult issues on the table, work through them together, and continue moving forward.
I beg you all to keep the most basic needs of our youth front and center as you serve on the board.
Our students deserve to work in clean, uncrowded, welcoming, meaningful learning environments.
If you truly must, then cut programs, sell properties, lay off staff, consolidate schools or approve charters in empty storefronts, but as for the programs you do preserve, be sure they are being run decently.
'Be the labor great or small, do it well, or not at all.'
- Charlotte Lumae is a local educator and parent of a student in the Forest Grove School District