Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Death of a District?

My presence at work meetings usually results in the book title Death By Meeting echoing through my head. I believe many of us have had that same frustrated feeling, "I could be doing something so much more important right now!"

But I attended a board meeting in Wheaton last night for my daughters' school district, Community Unit School District 200, that gave new meaning to the word "death" in that title. As I sat there, my eyes watered, my heart sank, my spirit bled. My hometown school district was dying, and I was at the deathbed gathering. Where was I? How did this happen overnight? And how is it that I was informed about something so catastrophic through a casual email from a friend?

The community sat stunned, injured, depressed as the acting superintendent read slide after slide of loss—middle school teachers cut, class sizes increased, educational opportunities dropped, just to name a few. This "budget proposal" was literally harming every person in the district, most directly, of course, our precious children. How could this possibly be the solution?

The domino effect of negative consequences caused by implementing this proposal cannot be fully understood by anyone at this time, but common sense dictates nothing less than disaster. Most disturbing to me is that I do not believe an administrative team who proposes this as the path to fiscal stability is capable of comprehending the depth of destruction this will cause. The immediate frustration to the teaching staff—a dramatic and arguably a potential career-changing factor—will lead to much more tragic outcomes. Having a positive, familial atmosphere at school—between staff, students, etc.—provides a comfortable environment for all to thrive, nurtures a climate conducive to innovative curricular development and most importantly fosters critical teacher-student relationships. These are the minimal foundational pieces for the growth of our children. This atmosphere cannot be sustained in an environment described by the acting superintendent last night. (In fact, the polar opposite is likely.) Nor is it remotely appropriate to ask this already dedicated and loving teaching staff to try.

I have a solution to the board's partially self-inflicted woes. Revisit the district's core beliefs. Sit with creative and insightful teachers, students and staff. Ask yourself the tough questions, the really tough questions. Let others help you formulate them, if need be. And then think, ponder. Spend the hours necessary to develop more appropriate, innovative, and responsible decisions. Do not, I beg of you, take the seemingly simple route. You described yourselves as "elected servants" last night. That is exactly what is required here. We could use this opportunity to demonstrate how a community employs true collaboration and originality to tackle a challenge such as this one.

The complexity of issues that will surface if you follow through on the administrators' budget recommendation will be insurmountable. And the damage done to our children will be irreparable.

And I am available to brainstorm with any board member at any time. I'm waiting for your call.