Remember when schools were primarily about education? You recall, back when the most important thing – period – was the students and preparing them as best possible for the future.
Talk about a kinder and gentler time.
Not today, however, as an early 2017 marked by second-guessing of unpopular decisions, procedures, and other non-academic actions, as well as infighting over relatively minor matters among School Board members, has placed the Marlboro County School District squarely in the cross-hairs of many disgruntled and concerned members of the community.
Discontent has been building over the past few months as issues unrelated to student achievement, such as unresolved superintendent-related contract negotiations and performance evaluation measures, basic policy disagreements, lengthy and contentious meetings, arguments over residency qualifications, school calendars, and even social media posts, have left some pondering District priorities.
And when that recent history was capped off by the surprise announcement – at a special called meeting late on the Friday afternoon when Spring Break was just commencing, without community input or public discussion – of plans to have Bennettsville area elementary grade students housed at Marlboro County High and other students shifted to different, out-of-home-area schools, well, the fuse was lit.
At this rate, it’s going to be difficult to tell if the next school bell will signal a class change, or Round One of a clash between District officials and the stake-holding public.
What a shame. Because we’re talking about futures here, both our kids and ours. In fact, the very future of the world is sitting in classrooms today. And we’re shortchanging our kids if we give them less than our full and total support and attention. Moreover, our track record on academic performance is not exactly sterling; we have enough hurdles to cross without fighting one another.
And it’s everyone’s fault.
At times, the public seems to think school officials care little about their opinions and feel frustration that they “don’t matter” – especially when an important issue is scheduled for serious consideration or adoption without specific notice and public discussion beforehand. However, District officials are just as often disappointed and perplexed by the lack of parental involvement or public attendance and participation at board meetings.
That’s a problem. A big problem. A disconnect such as that is almost certain to lead to dysfunction.
Folks, we have to come together on our schools, we have to find common ground where we may not now see it, if for no other reason than those innocent faces that are counting on us to provide them with the tools to fully grow into their dreams. We cannot afford to continue to under-perform when compared to like districts. It’s time for us to be the success story, rather than reading of some other district’s accolades.
But no one is coming to our rescue; the cavalry is not gonna ride in and save the day. And it matters not how or why we got to this point, or how long or how far we’ve been down. It’s our school system and it’s up to us to fix it. We need to forget the past and not worry as much about what was wrong yesterday as what we can do to make tomorrow better.
What we most need in this county is an “education reset” between our school leaders – professional educators who I believe have the skills, ability, and desire to make the lasting improvements we want and need – and the entire community, a re-dedication to focusing solely on what’s best for kids.
In short, let’s put kids first again.
The public needs to come together, not to throw stones, make accusations, or attempt to affix blame or cast aspersions, but to simply become more familiar with and active in matters affecting our schools, and to seek ways to support the administration, faculties, staffs, and, especially, the students. The most important contract you can ever make will be the one between you and your children, a pledge and a promise to get more involved in and supportive of their school activities. And to stay involved.
Similarly, the administration and school board should also take a deep breath and a step back and reassess how they approach and eventually resolve problems or initiate change, with a specific eye toward creating an inviting and inclusive environment for the public, rather than the doubt and suspicions that oddly-timed meetings or suspect decisions generate. Perception is sometimes more important than reality. And usually more dangerous, too.
Lastly, I hope that embattled Superintendent Tillar soon has a working arrangement that she is comfortable with, because we have lots of work to do and we’re going to need a good leader to get it done. I’m confident that Dr. Tillar has our children’s best interests at heart. And no one reaches her level of academic achievement and professional accomplishment without being driven to succeed, so I’d imagine an incentive-laden contract geared toward reaching or surpassing stated and measurable goals might prove inspirational.
The bottom line is we have to get our schools performing better. Because we’re better than what we’re showing. And the time is NOW.
All we have to do is work together.
It really is as easy as A-B-C.