The other day, I read that more and more people are choosing where to live based on the schools in the area. When I was a kid, the Marine Corps told us where we would live and the schools that were there would have to do. As we were public school kids, it never seemed to be an issue. You moved in, you went to school. That was it
As we left the family and went out on our own, we had choices about where to live and while I remember real estate people mentioning “good schools,” those mentionings were on a par with, say, a large garage that could be turned into a mother-in-law apartment, “good shopping areas,” or afternoon trash pickup – mildly interesting factoids that would only very lightly impact the decision to purchase.
The article I read really empasized the importance of good schools to a growing segment of buyers who often made up their minds with the education of their children in “good schools” as a leading priority.
I got to thinking of what we in Douglas County offer prospects to become our neighbors. For us, inexpensive land, low taxes, no zoning regulations, a lack of population density, and a three-meter diving board at the municipal pool, all had more of an impact on our decision than an evaluation of the school district. We just naturally assumed the schools would be “good.” And unlike many assumptions, this one turned out to be spot on. Our kids got the education they were willing to work for, and it serviced them well in their post-education lives.
The schools we got were, to us, straight out of the 1950’s, and for the most part remain so after thirty years living here. My brother, a recently retired California high school teacher, marvels when I tell him what I know about our schools, especially our high school. We don’t have guns in our schools unless someone is going hunting after class. We don’t have graffiti on the walls unless it is an art class project. We don’t have a paralyzing number of social problems like gangs, fights, drugs, unwanted pregnancies, teacher intimidation, and battery, rapes, and so on. I would imagine we have our share (or perhaps a bit less) of the “normal” school problems: unprepared students, unprepared teachers, institutionalized apathy, massive truancy, bullying to some degree, maybe an administration and School Board that could be more responsive to the people, but still, to hear my brother tell it, we are blessed with a public school that seems half a century out of step with the schools so many locations struggle with. And we would be foolish to forget how well our students are able to do when they do not have some of the problems other districts live with on an everyday basis.
And here comes the “but”: But what do we have to show for an educational environment so blessed? Are our achievement test scores off the charts? Do our graduates populate the real, rigorous, four-year universities at an unexpectedly high rate? Do our students go to and excel at vocational and technical training centers to an astonishing degree?
Maybe we should be satisfied with a calm, even happy school district where students operate in safety. That should be the absolute minimum of any school, but how often do we see that is not the case. But, again, doesn’t it seem that without all the dreck other schools have to defend against every day, and our students do not, we should be leaving measures like “average,” “normal,” and “equivalent” far behind and achieving stellar marks across the board?
I have not heard of such badges of educational excellence being pinned to our schools as a result of our students’ performances, and if they are, they should be publicized not just so a resident like me hears of them, but so a family considering a move to Douglas County would hear of them. And let’s make an effort to collect those badges by insisting our schools ecome machines that turn out graduates that have not just our encouragement, but our demands that they drive toward their potentials – an entire community that requires better than “average,” better than “expectations,” requires our students reach “the 10%.”
This is always surprising when we relearn the lesson that humans arrive at expectations. If we demand excellence we will get excellence when we define excellence as that which is at the top of our abilities. Every student can operate at that level of excellence given the right tools and expectation of success.
In the graduation publications we see, why not add sections reporting where our students have gone, what they have done, the heights to which they have risen due to both their individual efforts and the preparation we gave them? If we do not keep tabs on them, lets us begin to do so. We graduate scores of students every year. How are they doing? Not just the stars that would have done well regardless of what school they attended, but everyone else. If we educate them as if we expected great things from all of them, if we keep up with them after graduation expecting success from them, if they come to understand that we truly believe in them and honestly expect them to excel, they will.
When you consider the difficulties other communities have to overcome that we do not, how can we miss?
And then, when OUR school registration day comes along, we will have new students from new families lined up out the door and down the street.