Of Teachers and EMTs

These days, everyone wants teachers to be more “accountable” for their work—because everyone should be accountable for their work, right? It’s hard to disagree with that. But I fear that the current concern (more of a hysteria, really) about “teacher accountability” may end up doing more harm than good to public education.

Two logical fallacies underlie the rationale to make teachers more “accountable” – OK, I’ll stop using the quotes now. The first is that somehow they weren’t really held accountable for the quality of their work before. That’s absurd, of course. Leaders of public schools always had the ability to fire poor teachers or those who failed to improve, they just largely abandoned that responsibility, then whined a lot about how difficult it was to fulfill.

The second fallacy is that teaching is just like most other professions. I don’t think that’s true. Here’s a story to illustrate.

I worked for a while as an EMT, on the side and mostly for the fun. Here are a couple of scenarios I’ve seen:

(1) EMTs and paramedics are sitting around the station when a call comes in: “70-year old man with chest pain”. The crew next up gathers their things, moves purposefully to the truck and drives—under lights and siren, but prudently—to the scene. It’s no use making more victims. It won’t do the patient any good if his responders are hurt en route. It isn’t their heart attack and he needs them to be calm and ready to go when they arrive.

(2) Now change the call to “11-year old boy fell from a 3-story balcony,” and here’s what happens: The rustling of people and equipment is seismic. Everyone jumps and looks concerned. Bags are tossed, help is offered, calls are monitored and made. Crews run to trucks and the response is rapid—sometimes dangerously so. These are the times when emergency medical staff have to be most mindful not to crash a vehicle or hurt themselves or others. Why?

It’s because we’re biologically hard-wired to respond viscerally when a child is in pain. We put ourselves at risk to help a kid. When kids die, like the murders in Newtown, CT, we feel a sickening loss. When kids are sad or heartbroken, we are doubly so. Kids are more important than adults to our species (and any others I can think of). They are in every sense the future, biologically and socially. They are pure potential, and we have evolved to protect that. Gut-wrenching reactions are natural and unavoidable.

That is the life of a teacher, where every day presents many more encounters with children than adults, and the problems and struggles of kids – big and small – can rip your heart out. The life of a teacher is an equilibrium of little childhood issues, amplified many-fold, and punctuated by bigger, heartbreaking problems and sometimes gut-wrenching tragedies. While teaching is of course rewarding, It can be emotionally crushing, bit by bit or in big doses.

That’s why teachers are different than most other workers. They’re in a class by themselves (well, not really, but you get the point).

The accountability movement seeks to prescribe teacher “free” time at work. It doesn’t allow for the kinds of decompression that ease that strain and might form a foundation for a great class the next day. Teachers need sufficient time in each work day to interact with one another as human beings, as adults, to regain some perspective.

Accountability in public schools says that teachers should be judged by “value added” to students in the form of testable knowledge. It doesn’t measure untestable things like tears wiped away, comforting words, attending a kid’s sporting event or play to form a deeper connection, or the other little things done by a teacher over the school year that help a student to understand that this adult is there to care for them and can be trusted.

Accountability increasingly means that parents get to hover over every facet of the student-teacher relationship, like gaining the ability to dive into the everyday details of a grade book. That kind of hovering will not take the place of a meaningful parent-teacher partnership and it’s disrespectful of professionals. I don’t get to listen to the preflight conversation of the pilots in the cockpit of the commercial airplane I pay to ride (where they discuss things like emergency landing plans), and I shouldn’t. I don’t get to sit in on medical M&M conferences (where they discuss what went wrong and why a patient died), nor should I; it would be stifling for the growth of that profession.

We all know that sometimes a job just isn’t a good fit for a person, that sometimes people need to be counseled out of a position, even fired, and that there is a spectrum of professionalism and skill in every profession. That’s the nature of things. Where I have to draw the line is at measures that are more punitive and prescriptive than they are helpful and uplifting to teachers, and that might end up being bad for their students.

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Why I’m running for a second term

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In the three years since you elected me to the Sharon School Committee, here’s what I’ve done on behalf of you and the kids, and why I’m running for a second term:

A unique voice

I bring a unique and individual voice to the School Committee (SC) that adds to its diversity and questions the status quo without being contrarian.

As an educator myself (I teach high school mathematics and science at an independent school), I bring a valuable perspective to every discussion. It’s tricky to navigate sometimes, because the SC doesn’t run the day-to-day operations of the schools—that’s the job of the professional staff and the Superintendent—but I am able to speak authoritatively about matters of educational philosophy that guide our efforts.

I believe strongly that diversity on the SC is vital for creating the kind of substantive and wide ranging discussions that will lead to policies that are best for our kids.

It’s no secret that I believe we are currently in a time of madness in education reform (see my TEDx talk on this). While I will continue to speak out strongly against one-size-fits-all approaches, high-stakes standardized testing and other initiatives that I believe will ultimately do more harm than good, I do realize that there are some things we won’t be able to change soon. There’s no use tilting at windmills, so my efforts will focus on ways to ameliorate negative effects of reforms that are bad for Sharon and to make sure we continue to that we are mindful of the other important aspects of education that recognize our students (and their teachers) as individual people.

Budget

Working with my colleagues on the Committee,  and with an administration committed to the conservative approach required by tough economic times, I’ve helped to craft and approve School Department budgets that provide the same essential level of services as when I was elected, with no major initiatives. Sharon taxpayers just can’t afford a school budget expansion.

Master teacher position

The essential element of education in our schools is the student-teacher relationship. Teachers, their salaries and benefits, account for about 85% of the school budget. That’s a big fraction of our resources, and it is irresponsible not to protect it and nurture it. It became clear about a year ago that we weren’t doing as good a job as we could to evaluate teachers and to help struggling ones improve. At my suggestion, the Superintendent put together a proposal to hire a “master teacher” who would work with struggling teachers in all schools to help them improve their practice.

While I’m not generally in favor of adding more non-teaching staff (indeed, I still feel that it would be invaluable for all administrators to teach students some of the time), it became clear that we might be letting down some of our teachers, and therefore their students,  in not providing a means to intervene sooner when needed.

I look forward to evaluating the effect on our teaching force that this position has made, and I also applaud the Superintendent for having plans for such a position at the ready—he’d been thinking about it, too.

Policy

For the last three years I have worked diligently to uphold a mandate the Committee has imposed upon itself to continually review and revise its policy manual. SC policies help the Superintendent and the department to fulfill the aspirations of the community about education and to operate within the requirements of state and federal laws. As chair of the policy subcommittee, I have overseen considerable simplifications of much of the (lengthy) policy manual, making it much more accessible to all members of the Sharon education community.

I’ve also been the principal author of some important new policies, including the social media policy, adopted last year, that grapples with the tricky intersection of the social media lives of adults and children in the community.

High School Roof and Roof Study

Working both as a member of the School Committee and the Capital Outlay Committee, I worked to ensure that the town would pass funding for the much-needed roof repair at Sharon High School. We now have not only a new, leak-free roof that protects our students and the contents of the building, but added significant enhancements to the look and feel of the building.

Beyond that, I undertook a study of the other four school roofs in the district. I created a time-line that graphically shows installation dates and projects when repairs or complete re-roofing of the other buildings might be necessary. It’s very important not to be blindsided by needs like this, but to be prepared well in advance for such significant expenses.

Safety and Security

Safety of children and staff in the schools is our primary responsibility.

Working through the capital planning process, I asked for a re-prioritization of some needs to allow the district, through Town capital funds, to purchase new lock sets for the classroom doors in most of our buildings (the Middle School, for example, just got new locks as part of the remodel). This project is under way, and essential for school security in a lock-down situation.

As a former EMT and an educator myself, I am very familiar with emergency response, accident and incident prevention, and security & safety in a school setting. I serve and have served on other safety committees. I will continue to monitor our safety planning and spending to ensure that we are responsibly protecting our students and their teachers.

Getting the school committee to speak with one voice

I often encourage my students to write letters or speak to their representatives in government, admonishing them that “if you do nothing, you can really only be sure of one thing: that you did nothing.”

I believe strongly that an elected body like the SC has a responsibility to use their collective position as leverage in that kind of communication, to speak up on behalf of the stakeholders of the district. After the Newtown, CT schoolhouse murders, I drafted a letter that members signed, and we sent it to all of our representatives, asking for meaningful firearm control laws that respect both the U.S. Constitution and the need for safety of our own students.

Technology Assistance Program

Working with the Superintendent and the business manager, I created a program through which Sharon teachers can take up to a $2000 advance on salary in order to buy a computer or another piece of technology for their professional use. The advance is repaid over the course of the school year by deductions. The program has met with minimal success because teachers initially felt that such an advance shouldn’t be taxable (unfortunately not possible), but I hope to encourage more teachers to take advantage of the program. The idea is to make it as easy as possible to keep teachers current with new technological advances.

Redrawing elementary school district lines

One of the important responsibilities of the SC is to equally share resources among the students and families of the district. From time to time, that means adjusting who goes to which school. This is a thankless process, to be sure. It can understandably be very emotional for families.

Working with a redistricting task force, I helped to craft several remapping scenarios, and one was ultimately adopted by the SC. I commend the Superintendent for having implemented the plan humanely, and I note that it has rebalanced the elementary schools as much as possible while affecting as few families as possible.

Clarity in our discussions and communications

Education can be a jargon-laced, confusing mash of acronyms and made-up words. In my time on the SC, I have strived consistently to remove jargon from our discussions and from our documents, to reduce the use of acronyms and get everyone to just say what we mean. My refrain has been the same one I give my students: Whatever has been thought through thoroughly can be stated simply.

I have spent countless hours editing documents produced by our schools because I strongly believe that every written document we produce should be a model for other districts to copy. We owe it to our children to teach through our actions, and that starts right at the top.

An analytic approach

My background in math and science helps me to bring an analytic approach to every matter brought before the committee. I have used it to cut through a lot of rhetoric, ask the crucial question and keep the leaders of the district focused on what’s best for the kids. But I never forget (because I can’t—I’m a teacher) that humanity must balance the analytic approach to any problem. Kids aren’t widgets; they’re adults in training, pure potential.

Why I’m running

I’m asking you to elect me for a second term because I’d like not only to continue what I’m doing, but also to shepherd some new initiatives to completion.  Among these are:

Contingent on approval by the May 2013 Town Meeting, we will commission a feasibility study for physical improvements at the high school.  Such a study is the necessary first step in acquiring any state or federal funding for such a project (which will be a must).  Our high school is in need of an upgrade:  Our science rooms, for example, wouldn’t pass muster under any new school building standards.

I am concerned about implementation of an authentic, high-quality teacher evaluation system in our schools.  Much of the mechanics of any new agreement have already been mandated by the state, but the proof will be in the putting.  I would like to monitor the implementation of this important process, to make sure that its outcomes are in the best interest of students and their teachers.

I would like to continue to work with school administrators to develop budgets and capital spending programs that focus on the priorities of the school district as identified in the district strategic plan, developed last year.

I ask for your support

I ask for your support.  Rest assured that I will continue to pour my heart and soul into understanding the issues and representing our students, their families and their teachers.  I believe in a high-quality education for all kids and I live that every day.

You might also want to check out my math and science teaching website:  http://www.drcruzan.com

It’s just a few percent

The school department in my town voted last week to require all students who want to graduate from high school to have taken four years worth of math courses. I was part of the decision, and lost the vote 5:1. It was heartbreaking.

In our district, on average, 95% of graduating* students will have taken four years of math, without a requirement to do so. That’s a strong signal that our guidance counselors have been doing an exemplary job of encouraging the kids—whom they come to know as individuals—not to cut off options too early in life. But those professionals also recognize that there are, and always will be, a few students for whom more math isn’t going to create more options, isn’t going to encourage passion, and may actually inflict more harm than it does good, if only in terms of a missed opportunity to fill that slot with another course that might inspire.

When, I continue to wonder, will we stop drinking the “21st Century Skills”, “our schools are failing our kids and we’ve got to do something about it” Kool-aid—no offense to Kool-aid, official drink of childhood (or is it bottled water, now)? Our response to a long string of national challenges, that arguably started with Sputnik 55 years ago, has been an equally long string of misguided, misinformed, mis-targeted “reforms” of how we teach math and science in schools.

Increasingly, we are treating our children as competitive units in an ongoing battle for one kind of dominance or other. It was Russia and socialism in the 60’s and 70’s, the battle for manufacturing dominance with Japan in the 70’s and 80’s, now the ideological and economic battles with China, India and others.

The end result, in my view as a teacher of math and science, is that much of the joy, creativity and imagination has been sucked out of the learning (and teaching) of subjects that are dear to me, and underlain with a poetry more profound than any ever wrought by humans. What more poetic than all of the complexity of our universe, expressed by a relatively small set of kinds of atoms, all of which are more the same than they are different?

Just last week, a report by a commission chaired by Condoleeza Rice and Joel Klein (former chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, whose only K-12 educational experience is that he was chancellor of the NYCPS), warned—yet again—about the sorry state of education in America, but this time with a different twist: That this sad state now puts our nation’s national security at risk. (http://www.cfr.org/united-states/us-education-reform-national-security/p27618)

As a math and science teacher, I have to say, “thanks!” to Ms. Rice and Mr. Klein for that. Very helpful. And I’m sure it will lead to more “standards” in the books of educational standards to which some teachers now have to refer (by their triple secret Dewey-decimal code numbers) in each of their lesson plans, to be turned in to sit on a shelf somewhere. It will lead to greater calls for “accountability” for educators, more admonitions from the business community, who seem to want schools to train kids exactly for the positions for which they will be hired, more outcries from politicians on subjects about which they actually know very little—and more “rigorous” graduation requirements. Thanks for the help!

What’s so troublingly ironic about the vote with which I opened this missive is that my local school district is a high-performing one with almost none of the dropout problems of many other districts, and much less of a racial and socioeconomic spread in student performance. While our district can and ought to be a laboratory for innovative approaches that best meet the needs of our own students (and thus an example to others), we instead seem to be actively seeking the same homogenized doldrum as everyone else.

It reminds me of an old Gary Larsen cartoon: A sheep in the middle of a flock is holding up a sign that says “Wait! Wait! We don’t have to be just sheep!”

* Our high school has one of the highest graduation rates in the state, 96.5% in 2011

What’s not wrong with math and science teaching

It’s become a something of a fashion to criticize math and science teaching in the U.S. Every few years legislators, departments of education and advocacy groups gripe about the purportedly poor standing of American students in math and science compared to their international peers. The Trends in International Math and Science Studies (TIMMS) are one such measure that evoke a big hue and cry.

A panic has been raised and measures are being taken to improve science and math teaching, but I think they’re largely counterproductive. I don’t think there’s any real reason to panic, and panic is not a good foundation from which to make new policy. When we make panic-based decisions, we almost always get it wrong.

In my own experience teaching high school science and math, most of the teachers I’ve encountered have been dedicated professionals with a deep background knowledge of their subject material and a drive to get kids to understand. Conferences I’ve attended are packed with educators from all over the country who are deeply concerned about teaching and learning. So what’s going on?

A couple of summers ago, after following news reports about how poorly US students were being prepared for the technical job world, I asked a simple question: How many science- and math-intensive jobs are available to US graduates, and in what fields? I found some answers in data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics ( http://www.bls.gov ). The results told a powerful story.

Look at the graph below, which I adapted from the BLS data. On the left are the broad job categories that the BLS tracks in the U.S. In red are jobs that require some sort of science or math training. Jobs in medicine—physicians, nurses and other medical staff—constitute the largest segment of science and technical workers, with engineers, computer professionals, architects and research scientists rounding out the list. The aggregate number of science and math jobs available in the U.S. is far less than the total number of jobs that do not require significant science and math training.

The BLS also keeps data on mean salaries for different job categories. These show that scientific training can bring a high salary, but it’s lower, on average, than those of business managers or lawyers. We also have to remember that the average physician, scientist, mathematician or architect spends more (often many more) years in school and further training than most other careers tracked. The pathway to high earnings is usually much easier for a business MBA than a career scientist.

Our country began the industrial revolution, and we matured through it. Most of the high-paying jobs in the U.S. now revolve around moving piles of money from place to place (a strategy that may recently have proven to be less than wise). While our country is still a leader in innovation, we simply don’t have the national drive we once had to lead by invention. The initial investment is too high and there are easier ways to make a living. The citizens of countries like China, Singapore and South Korea, on the other hand, stand to gain a great deal by leading in science and technology.

I don’t know if we Americans will regain that drive ourselves, but I do feel that in a panic to right this perceived wrong, we may be trying to force a science and math curriculum upon teachers and students that is too packed with subjects that must be covered in order to meet the demands of standardized tests, uninspiring for our kids and dull and repetitive to teach.

In order to innovate, our kids must first be curious. One way to make kids curious is to put them into classrooms where they’ll be inspired. In my view, many of the mandates that have rained down upon teachers over the last decade have sucked away much of their freedom and ability to inspire, and that’s a shame.

So what’s the way forward?

We need to continue to free our teachers from the burden of teaching to standardized tests to the extent we can while remaining in compliance with the law. The school committee should actively lobby the DESE for exceptions to a one-size-fits-all testing mandate. 99% of our kids have passed the science MCAS as 9th graders since the test became a graduation requirement. We also need to continue the town-wide conversation about testing. Would we be OK with a 90% passing rate in trade for classrooms where teachers have the option of teaching some subjects more deeply, and where teachers have the opportunity to take a detour for inspiration’s sake?

Loss of the Alternative Elementary School

Early this year, the 37 year-old East Alternative Elementary School program was permanently closed by the school committee.  Classes will end at the end of the school year.   It’s one of the most contentious issues in this year’s campaign.

The Alternative School has a rich history. Its graduates and their families are proud of having been a part to the program, and many families have been saddened by its demise.

I am hardly qualified to put East Alternative in any historical context, but here is a brief description of the program as I understand it. I’ve tried to point out how some of the original AS ideas might have already been incorporated into our mainstream schools, and where I think we could use the AS model improve all of our schools.

The AS was established in 1973 and has been housed within East Elementary School. During these years, it was the closest thing we had to home schooling without actually schooling at home.

Class sizes were small, so students in a class could remain together for five years.

I work at a private school, and can affirm that small class sizes are crucial to creating a high-quality learning environment. In Sharon, our class sizes are about average for the state. It is unclear whether keeping kids in a consistent cohort through several grade levels improves learning.

There were multi-aged, multi-grade classes.

Schools don’t typically mix classes, but there can be benefits. One idea that is perennially discussed is advancement through grade levels by achievement in learning, not age. We all know that at every age, there is a disparity of maturity, learning style, background and academic accomplishment. It’s worth talking about these ideas more, and certainly worth considering making exceptions to the advancement rules in some cases. We ought not to be afraid of holding a child back or advancing and exceptionally talented student, as long as we are confident that it won’t be destructive socially. There is also much to be said for lots of efforts I will place under the umbrella “peer tutoring” —students teaching other students. It can be a powerful learning strategy for both parties.

A service commitment was required of all AS parents. Families were required to commit to a few hours per week of service in the school, and parents with special skills or knowledge were encouraged to participate in teaching. Families served on a variety of steering committees and on a governing board.

Parental involvement in schools is tied, one way or another, to academic success.  The Education Reform act of 1993 established that each of our schools have a school council. School Councils must include teachers, parents, students and community members without kids in school. Some of those panels in our district are effective, continually challenging each school in developing and evaluating yearly improvement goals. Some are less effective and ought to be challenged to be more progressive.

There is much to be done in all of our schools to increase and improve positive family participation. Some parents feel they’re not listened to when they query their schools about their kids. I think we have work to do to improve our communications with parents and non-parent community members. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that we have an extensive network of organizations through which families can assist and influence our schools. Among others, these include school PTOs, athletic boosters, and the Sharon Education Foundation.

The AS was open to all of Sharon’s families through a lottery system, although enrollment had fallen recently.

An important issue on the horizon is the redrawing of elementary school districts because of demographic changes in town. Because of some large developments that have brought our district more school-age children than anticipated, one or more of our elementary schools could end up being overcrowded, and we’ll likely need to make changes to balance the load.

Teachers and parents worked in continuous collaboration to try new ideas. The AS was a “laboratory school” where new ideas could be modeled for our other schools.

This, of course, is the aspect of the AS that will be the greatest loss for our community. My own hope is that we can work to make sure that each of our classrooms in each of our schools can be a laboratory for trying new ideas. This approach is contrary to our current way of thinking—a “cookie cutter” approach to teachers and teaching, where uniformity is the goal. Under this paradigm, I believe it’s too easy for the needs of our students to get lost in the shuffle.  Too much uniformity can also lead to uniform mediocrity.

If we can relax the constraints of uniformity on our teachers, we’ll allow for greater creativity. If we give them sufficient discretionary time during their days be human beings, then they’ll collaborate organically and good ideas will spread. If we give them our best effort at real professional development, they’ll bring new ideas into our system.

High School Late Start

I attended the late-start forum held at the SHS auditorium on Wednesday, April 7. The centerpiece of the discussion was a talk on the state of research into the sleep patterns and needs of adolescents. Prof. Mary Carskadon, a prominent Brown University researcher and expert in the field, presented data on many studies that, taken together, show that the adolescent brain:

  1. Needs more sleep, on average, than either younger or more mature brains, and
  2. Shows a significant shift toward staying up later and sleeping later in its normal (circadian) cycle.

These studies, performed over the last decade and before, have created a compelling case for a later start to the high school day. I agree, and would vote for the change.

To SHS students:

I know, from listening to many of you, that this proposed change is causing a lot of anxiety.

I know that many of you are very concerned about what will happen to your after-school activities and athletics, and I understand. I am continually amazed at what you accomplish in athletics, performance, and academic club and team pursuits. Many of you are deeply committed to interests outside of school, too. The variety and depth of talent you display and the hard work you clearly do are inspiring to me. I watch you and am motivated to work harder and do better myself. I know that these things are very important to you and that you don’t want to sacrifice any part of them.

You should also rest assured that you were well-represented on the late-start task force. Hadley, Laura and Josh have, by all reports, worked hard on your behalf and continue to do so.

Here’s my rationale for supporting a later SHS start:

  1. The research seems well-done and trustworthy. As a research scientist myself, I value good science and believe we should use it to guide our public policy. Our approach should be balanced, of course, by compassion for anyone who might be disadvantaged by a change, and by the need to live within a budget that is responsible to taxpayers. Too many times we spend gobs of public money on all kinds of research, only to ignore its advice or warnings. That’s always seemed odd to me, because we’re more than happy to accept the conveniences that result from science, like microwave ovens and computers.
  2. Ensuring that you have the same amount of time for after-school activities has been a major part of the discussion since the late start idea was proposed. Although there is more work to do, and we will undoubtedly discover some problems as we go along, I feel that much has been done to minimize the impact on your activities.
  3. I strongly feel that this change will be an investment for you that will yield a higher-quality school experience than you have now. That, I think, will translate into better experiences in your outside-of-school activities.
  4. If I were in a position to do so, I would only vote for this change if we promise you that it won’t happen in a vacuum. That this change is being discussed at all reflects that the community of adults wants to help you maximize your learning experience in every way possible. That means we also have to consider:
  • making changes to our homework policies that ensure that the time you spend on schoolwork outside of school isn’t just busywork.
  • other changes to the daily schedule that might help. Perhaps we could shift one day of the schedule to accommodate an earlier end of the day, allowing a little more afternoon time to sing, sail, play, travel to a game or study.
  • trying to be less rigid in enforcing some of our policies. Many of you have earned enough trust to be offered some flexibility of school rules in order to explore other learning opportunities both inside and outside of school.
  • offering independent study, athletics or other opportunities in the morning before school starts for those willing to get up early.
  • getting better at listening to students’ concerns, and becoming more flexible when it comes to trying out new ideas. The other day, I heard a guy say “I was born with two ears and only one mouth. I’m going to listen before I speak.” Good advice.

So if this change happens, I ask you to give it a chance, but at the same time, keep insisting on being heard when it comes to tweaking the schedule to fit all of your needs. And remember, nothing is set in stone. Sharon is its own district with its own unique set of needs. If this experiment doesn’t work, we can change our policy again. We’ve always got to be willing to examine what we’re doing and change it if it’s not working.

Below is the schedule version, developed by the school department, that I support. I feel strongly that if we’re going to make this change, we should go to the later of the two proposed alternative schedules.

On Fiscal Responsibility

One of the most important responsibilities of the school committee is oversight of the school department budget on behalf of all citizens.

I believe that we can accomplish a great deal of positive change in our school system without increasing the local tax burden.

There are some basic principles upon which we can probably all agree:

  • Many of us are the beneficiaries of a good public education, and many important innovations benefitting our society have been built upon the foundation forged by public schools.
  • Whether or not one has children in school, education of children is an important civic value. Children are, in a sense, more important than adults—they are adults in training, with limitless potential to do good.
  • While educational outcomes might be improved by spending more money, it is not always necessary to spend money in order to improve education.
  • Because education costs can limit the opportunities of many families or individuals in our community, they should be kept as low as possible.

The key: A long-range vision

The single most important thing our school committee can do to avoid costly surprises and to limit budget expansion is to look as far into the future as possible. Long-range plans looking ahead ten or more years should form the backbone of our budget writing efforts. Without this kind of vision, we’re destined to be caught short of funds when important opportunities arise, and surplus funds won’t be shifted effectively to priority needs.

Having a long-range plan means:

  • Listening to all stakeholders in developing a view of the education priorities of the future;
  • Ongoing and preventive maintenance of the physical plant of each school;
  • Keeping apprised of town-wide planning efforts and changing demographics;
  • Keeping an eye on state and federal fiscal health, which can significantly impact the Sharon budget;
  • Continual assessment of the need for, and the needs of, teaching staff;
  • Development and maintenance of long-range school-level and department-level plans.

That last point is very important. Many times in the Sharon schools and in other places, I have seen discretionary money become available only to find few ideas and little consensus about how to spend it. Involvement of staff below the administration level to maintain prioritized “wish lists” and long-range plans for schools and school departments will help us to spend available money where it can have the most impact for our students.