Time for a fresh start in the Douglas school district
Several pivotal issues face the Douglas County School District. In addition to naming a new superintendent, the school board must respond to the findings of the Douglas County grand jury and conclude contract negotiations with both teachers and staff. It is obvious that the district is at a crossroads. These circumstances are an opportunity to frame solutions to long-standing, accepted concerns voiced in the recent elections and enumerated bin the grand jury report. They are an opportunity to examine our progress ad refine our vision as a community. The resolution of these issues can improve the quality of the education of our children and regain confidence in the district.
The district must reaffirm its responsiveness to the community through open processes and its own accountability. Now is the time to engage in a “needs assessment” that will secure broad input from all segments of the community. Such a process will ensure that the board and district staff truly are in touch with public expectations and priorities and that they are acting in concert with the sentiments expressed in the recent election and grand jury findings. The strategic plan needs validation and, if necessary, amendment from input beyond the core groups which have managed it thus far. Ideally, this assessment process would be engaged in before a new superintendent is selected and would form parameters for a district vision of the future.
Vocational and special education programs require attention. Spending in both areas has decreased and there is no clear vision for the future. While academic student achievement is the top priority, students with specific and special needs remain undervalued in the competency system. A thorough program evaluation in both areas is essential.
Teacher concerns with the competency system are long-standing and well-defined. Teachers recognize a need to measure and account for student performance but argue that some elements of the competency system fall short of that goal. It seems clear that the public expects professional input by teachers to contribute to the educational process. The board can respond to the community and the grand jury by accepting the validity of professional input and by creating channels of communication and decision-making. The board can improve teacher morale by establishing policies and practices for professional input that formalize their recent efforts at communicating with teachers. As of the present, no plans for continuing meetings with teachers have been made for this school year; this process must continue. Similarly, board members and administrators should regularly attent PTA meetings and create a policy for such interaction.
Securing adequate funding for public education remains a priority and must be addressed with renewed conviction. Now is the time to discuss solutions; we cannot let the pressure and politics of a legislative session distort the issue. The board and administration should be laying the framework for the policies that must be adopted in the next session. Pressure should be put on the governor to unveil his plan for solving the state’s fiscal problems and for the adequate funding of education in the climate of inadequate teacher pay and teacher shortages. As of this writing, a number of teaching positions remain unfilled and are being covered by substitutes and short-term employees. Especially in the special education program, the needs of children are going unmet.
In short, now is the time to recapture public confidence in the public education system and resolve the concerns that surfaced in the election and in the grand jury’s report. The community must come together in a renewed vision; teachers and administrators must forge a team that executes that mandate; the present school board, which is substantially different form the one that acquiesced to the present circumstances, must have the opportunity to do the right thing.
We have learned that it does take a community to educate children. It’s time to make the changes we envision into a reality.
n Marty Cronin is president of the Douglas County Professional