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Story Time

School improvement plan flawed

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Cartoon courtesy of Cagle Cartoons

I remember several years back sitting in a school superintendent's office discussing an opinion piece I had just written. The column focused on local students and the lack of success they were experiencing in the classroom. I cited poor test scores and low graduation rates.

My answer to the problem was to increase the length of the school day, and to cut short all the vacation time students enjoyed throughout the year. Basically...the students needed to spend more time in the classroom.

The schools superintendent politely informed me why my solution to the problem wasn't feasible. Students and their parents would be adamantly opposed to it, longer school days and more of them would be too costly, and the biggest stumbling block would have been to get the teachers union to agree to all of it.

Now, though, the options I pitched way back when are apparently going to become reality. That's because Sunnyside High School has been labeled as one of the many schools in the state that isn't reaching or exceeding standards deemed as acceptable. As such, Sunnyside was mandated to choose one of four improvement plans. The only viable option, considering the worst case scenario was to turn over the entire high school operations to the government, was to seek out federal grant money that can be used to increase the success of local students.

The plan comes with several conditions. One of them being longer school days and, more of them. Another condition is that Sunnyside must replace the high school principal with a different administrator.

Apparently the feds need a scapegoat in all this, and the principals were chosen to shoulder the blame.

Looking back at my suggestions several years ago to increase classroom time, I'm going to be the first to admit that I was totally wrong. Which means, the federal government's stipulations of more time in the classroom for local students is just as erroneous.

Sure, the extra classroom time may elevate Sunnyside's graduation rate 1 or 2 percentage points, which is all that is needed to get the local high school above the under-achieving line and get the state and feds off our backs.

But in terms of making any real progress, especially considering the Sunnyside School Board's stated goal of having a 100 percent graduation rate at the high school, the extra $2 million or so that will be flowing into local school coffers annually for the next three years, well...you might as well flush that money down the drain.

The problem doesn't lie in the schools. You might argue that the current SHS principal, Brian Hart, should have tightened up on discipline at the school or that he didn't set the bar high enough in terms of standards for students. But heaven help whoever comes in and replaces him and attempts to remedy those problems.

The real scapegoat in all this, to put it bluntly, isn't the principal. It's the whiny, self-absorbed, cry baby parents of local students who use the schools as babysitters. It's the moms and dads who throw fits, who race into the schools to berate instructors and administrators whenever any real discipline is meted out. It's these same parents who fail to take a hands-on approach with their children on the home front, who refuse to put in the time with their own kids to ensure their success.

Setting standards, instilling discipline starts at home, not in the schools. There is very little of that here in Sunnyside. To expect our schools to take on the roles of parents, it's asking too much.

The adults of this community, the parents, need to start acting responsibly. Turning your kids over to the schools and asking them to right the wrongs inflicted at home, that's not a reasonable expectation.

The state and federal governments can create a long list of mandates that our schools must adhere to. The gains we'll see by following those instructions will be miniscule, though.

The real solution to experiencing large gains in our classrooms rests, however, with the adults who are supposed to be raising their children in a responsible and workman-like manner. It takes hard work and sacrifice to be a parent, one who successfully transitions a child into becoming a productive and successful member of society.

Unfortunately in this community, there are not a lot of signs that enough parents are willing to put in hard work and sacrifice. And that, is indeed a sad state of affairs.

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