SCHOOL BUDGETS, BOARDS, AND BONDS
BUT WHAT ABOUT EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE?
April 13, 2008
It is doubtful that more money can solve the problem. "High School graduation rates plummet below 50 percent in some U.S. cities" that is the headline as reported by America's Promise Alliance. That is abysmal. Nationally, only 70 percent of US students graduate on time, but that number too is falling. To find a remedy, money is not necessarily the answer. No amount of public funding can help a school system improve in quality without a core of accountable and inspirational leadership, high quality teaching, motivated learners who come from a supportive and accountable home base, and, school district fiscal integrity. This is a fact and you can take that to the bank.
School budgets are on an annual threshold of time and school districts will be facing an important vote. The results of that vote will impact the future for students, parents, the community, and, in the long run, our nation. The public vote for school district budgets and for school board candidates will be on the May 20 ballot. School budget proposals for the next fiscal year are now nearly finalized. The school budget, as presented by the school board, is a statement of the fiscal priorities of the District but the EDUCATIONAL priorities are where it is at! And the school board members play a key role as school district policymakers. Their responsibilities include, in addition to other areas, listening to a speaking public, assuring excellence in the governance of quality educational programs, analyzing and prioritizing essential needs, establishing enlightened policies, prudentially allocating resources, and monitoring educational progress. Excellence in our schools is dependent upon high quality teaching and solid learning, undergirded by a sound fiscal plan and guided by highly professional competence in administrative leadership.
Importantly, a thoughtful and vigorous community will foster and expect a thoughtful and vigorous educational system. The future of our schools rests in the hands of the current generation. The voters play a significant role in school district affairs and they will express their views on the third Tuesday in May.
There is an old expression which says that children need to learn the 3Rs: READIN', 'RITIN', 'RITHMATIC'. Today, however, national statistics show that two-thirds of ninth graders will leave high school without the English and math skills to handle college or secure a job that can support a family. This statistic has devastating consequences for our young people and for our country. The good news is there are those educators and others who have a design to fix our broken or weakening schools. This fixing, in addition to the traditional 3Rs, must include the need to instill within our learners and personnel, three additional 3Rs: an attitude for a RIGORIOUS work ethic and study effort, self accountable RESPONSIBILITY, and a RESOLVE to be resilient and steady at the work job of learning and teaching, all within schools that maintain a safe and wholesome environment. These 6 Rs aren't like the individual answers on a multiple choice test and you pick one. All six are required. They are the building blocks for individual success and a design for excellence. They serve as a road map for hope. As a good friend of ours recently stated, "it is a matter of attitude." If ever there was a time, THIS is THAT time for an attitude of inspiration and accountability in our schools and on our school boards.
It is true, the school budget document is the financial road map for the district. And the school board's responsibility as accountable policy leaders of the school system is essential. There may be new members joining holdover board members and, within a few weeks, a new board of education for each school district will become a reality. The board is a strategic body of decision makers. They set the tone for the school system and should serve as a model of excellence. The corporate body of trustees of a school district has major public responsibilities doing the business of the people as pubic trustees. And a trustee occupies a position of trust in the performance of their pubic duties. Clearly, the performance of members of public boards calls for the highest level of accountable leadership and integrity as well as sensitive listeners to a speaking public.
School Board members and educators would do well to note, our schools of the past have educated outstanding graduates. The productivity and ingenuity of Americans everywhere is the envy of the world. Our schools should reflect this ingenuity and productivity. American innovation and productivity is leading the way in this Information Age. And new technology speeds an exchange of ideas that often bear the mark of American inspiration. Few nations in history have been granted such a singular opportunity to help shape the future of so many people around the world. A high degree of leadership is desperately needed in all aspects of American life. And it begins right where we are… in our schools, in small towns and communities, and in our cities and megalopolis urban areas. It is imperative that it be present in local municipal government settings, county agencies, state government operations, AND on local boards of education and within educational circles.
As we see it, excellence in leadership is influence guided by core beliefs and virtues that mobilize people to accomplish a mission and a vision. An accountable leader does NOT shirk from responsibility. Building excellence in our schools is essential. Maintaining a wholesome and safe environment is a prerequisite. In the words of Winston Churchill: "Someone has to take responsibility, I will." This leadership requires solid character, sound competence, and genuine commitment that is coherent with one's core beliefs and virtues. It is this alignment which gives rise to one's trustworthiness. And core beliefs define what is fundamentally true, important, and right. And virtues are the standards against which ethical behavior is measured. In short, accountable leaders concentrate on doing the right thing. It requires vision, determination, resilience, and fiscal integrity.
Sustained excellence at all levels, from the trusteeship on a local school board to the greatest office in the land, requires adherence to ethical values and determined perseverance. These core values are the touchstones for leading and the ethical lodestars for action. It is by firmly holding to one's principles and acting on one's convictions that one earns the right to lead. With this kind of determined "will" within ALL levels of the school organization, horizontally and vertically, our schools will indeed be hallmarks of excellence. Base your vote on higher expectations and proof of excellence. The third Tuesday in May provides an opportunity for renewal in educational excellence. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.