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A Tale of Two Cities

Allow me, if you will, to tell you a story.  This story is of the non-fiction variety, but it is still quite a marvelous tale.  In fact, it is more amazing because it  is a true story, one that may be surprising to those who listen to popular myths and misconceptions.

This is the story of a successful public school system.  A school system that has unique and innovative programs for all of its students.  A school system that has a gifted program that has flexible grouping and formative learning, something very few area districts offer students.  A school system that has an inclusion based special education program focused on giving individual attention to the specific needs of every student.  A school system that ranks in the top 3 in the Dayton region and among the best in the state in academic performance.  A school system that in 2011, met 26 out of all 26 performance metrics set forth by the State of Ohio.    A school system that has increased its performance index score for three years in a row, a score that mind you is above the 100 score that is deemed excellent.  In fact it was 105 in 2009, 106.5 in 2010, and 107.2 in 2011 – do yourself a favor and ask a teacher how difficult this is to achieve.  A school system that has the ranking of “Excellent with Distinction” and has had this ranking for multiple years running.  A school system that has a score of met / above for adequate yearly progress / value added growth.  A school system that has a 97% attendance rate.  A school system that has 96.2% graduation rate.  A school system that has the lowest expenditure per pupil of all 50 Dayton-area public school districts, and ironically a school system that is located in the wealthiest zip code in the region.

This is the story of the Springboro, Ohio schools.

The story, as has been explained thus far, is based solely on facts.  Allow me to add more to this story with a small dose of emotion.  As the parent of children who both attend Springboro schools, I see the care, compassion, and dedication of the teachers that deliver these results for our community.  I spend time in the classrooms.  I see the innovative techniques used to challenge students.  I see the commitment of teachers to the success of each and every student.  I see how much they care about my children, both of whom have had substantial personal health challenges to overcome.  I see the teachers out in the community giving back, showing support at charity events for struggling families, and going far beyond their obligation to educate within the confines of the classroom.   The teachers in the district actually give a damn about our children.  In my humble opinion, it is high time we begin to show them the same respect – something they have more than earned.

Most communities would rejoice at such an amazing school system.  Most communities would recognize the responsibility and importance of supporting  a public entity that made such effective and efficient use of taxpayer money.  Most school boards would be leading the charge of support, issuing press releases, holding news conferences, and showcasing their district as a model for success.  And yet oddly… this is not the case in Springboro.

Why is this important? Currently there is another story circulating in our community.  A story that I perceive to be mostly fictitious.  A story whose purpose is to generate discontent and fear so that a new reality can be manufactured.  A story told by those who believe political issues like property tax reform should trump educational excellence on the local school board priority list.  A story that lacks the fundamental data needed to be anything other than a grim fairy tale, instead relying on isolated bits of information and percentages taken out of context to validate flawed logic masquerading as financial stewardship.  A story that postulates that our schools are filled with serious academic challenges because they are currently under-performing.  A story that proposes that our schools are failing to prepare our children to be successful members of modern society.   A story that is so frightening that if it were in fact true, would lead the people in our community to take drastic action.  A story that seeks to shift from fiction to non-fiction by creating a future that dismantles our public schools in favor of charter schools.

The Springboro School board has already hired a consulting firm to do a study on the viability of charter schools in our community.  When interviewed and asked about it, many school board members oddly say they are just exploring it, yet sing like a chorus that it would be an excellent idea for our gifted children.  The firm they hired for somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000, depending on how you want to dissect the terms of the contract, to do an “objective analysis” of the need for charter schools in our community, specializes in doing the legal work required to set up charter schools.  What do you suppose the findings of this study will be?  I have personally never been paid by a client to make a sales call, but it sounds like good work if you can get it.  For a board that talks so much about fiscal responsibility, this seems like a very bizarre course of action.  Furthermore, the charade they are walking us through is a giant insult to the people of the community and a ridiculous waste of our collective time.  If you are proposing that you want to do this, just come out and say, you hate property taxes and you are willing to do anything, including using our schools and our children for a political statement.

I don’t resent that some believe in a different story.  I do however, have a problem with people trying to masquerade a fictitious tale as the truth – all at the expense of our teachers, our children, and our community.  Have the courage to tell me a non-fiction tale if that is what you believe.  Tell me the truth and let me judge your ideas on their actual merit, instead of showing blatant disrespect to the educators in our community who have performed so exceptionally on a consistent basis.  Don’t tell me you support our teachers when you plan to put them out of a job – replacing them with less qualified, cheaper replacements at your future charter school.  Don’t tell me the importance of personal responsibility when you want to have the taxpayers of the State of Ohio pay for the education of our children out of the state general fund- shamelessly doing so in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the State.  Don’t tell people that you have no idea if we could have a charter school so we need to do a study when you already plan to open a charter school for gifted kids so that you can reduce the number of teachers in the public schools.  Don’t tell me that a charter school could benefit kids with special needs, when you have no intention of doing this and we have worked hard to implement a model of inclusion. Tell me that this is just a way for you to justify spending money on a study so you can soft sell the community on an idea when it is soon to be recommended to us by your hired “objective” experts.  Don’t tell me a charter school for gifted kids will better serve them, when our current gifted program is among the best anywhere, and there is data to prove it.  Tell people that this is an easy way to validate the charter model by stacking the deck with smart kids, which will also lower the standardized test scores in the remainder of the district – generating false support for your political experiment.  Don’t tell me that a charter school will for gifted kids will allow the district to devote more resources to the rest of the student body.  Tell me that you plan to execute a reduction in force and use the threat as a bargaining tool when the teachers go to negotiate their contract this year.  Don’t tell me that our schools are failing, when we spend less, get more, and have the means to invest more in this incredible asset.  Instead tell people you have a philosophical issue with public schools and you want to do away with them in their current form.

If we as a community sit and do nothing, the fictitious tale of the failing district will be tomorrow’s reality.  Every school system has room to improve, Springboro included.  However to say that we are anything short of excellent as a district is nonsense.  If we don’t start showing support for our teachers they will either leave or be shown the door, sealing our fate.  If we don’t start to believe in our schools; in the incredible opportunity they offer our children and the unique asset they represent to our community, they will cease to exist.  You can choose what to believe.  You can choose which story is better representative of the truth.  It is more important than ever that you choose, based not on fear but on data, and then choose to speak up and get involved.  If you don’t care or don’t believe in our schools, just do nothing.  If you do believe, show it.  Spread the word.  Attend a school board meeting.  Send an email to our leaders.  Share this blog post.  Write your own post.  Or… do nothing, and that’s what you’ll have to show for it.

Thank you to the teachers of Springboro for all you do to make our community great.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” – Charles Dickens

 

Statistics cited in this post obtained from Dayton Business Journal‘s 2012 Book of Lists, pages 58-59.  Their source is listed as The Ohio Department of Education.  More information is available on The Ohio Department of Education website.