Together we can make our schools and systems better

Letters to the editor

To the editor and Aberdeen School District patrons,

I have vacillated between writing this letter or just keeping quiet for almost two weeks. However, my conscience tells me I am not being part of the solution by keeping quiet. In reflection of Mr. Wahlen’s letter, there are valid points and I have attempted to take a big picture viewpoint that I feel must also be presented.

I, too, have been concerned about where talented teachers will come from given the shortage of individuals going into the teaching profession; particularly from Idaho State University and a general trend across the nation. In my communication with two professors in the education department at ISU, they are concerned about the numbers and quality of committed individuals coming into the profession. Pay is a big issue and expectations from today’s teachers are only two driving factors in decreased numbers. One only has to look at recent and past newspaper ads to know we are not the only district looking for teachers due to retirements and low applicant numbers. It has also been mentioned to me that it doesn’t help draw people to apply when district employees (staff and teachers) and patrons speak negatively about their city and district. As a past school board member for seven years, I do have to say there never was a teacher terminated for speaking up, so I don’t understand fear of speaking up. If district employees are speaking negatively, we do need to ask whether our teachers/staff are being listened to and whether they are positively engaged and encouraged by their administrators to be part of the solutions? If not, could this be why they are discouraged and disappointed? There is nothing wrong with speaking up and maybe it takes a group to get the board’s attention. Speaking up and being listened to go hand in hand when issues are presented respectfully, professionally and with maintaining human dignity regardless of different viewpoints. Life has taught me that we all make mistakes, we are human and attempt to do better with our decisions by heeding sound counsel and advise, but let’s remember to maintain human dignity.

As to the statistics of ratio of administration to staff, if true as reported, we must keep in mind that school districts and building situations are different, along with demographics and changes from year to year. Maybe our student numbers are less here, but the special needs are based upon student population needs and we are required to provide those services. Maybe there are different ways to provide those needs without added cost. I don’t know, but we surely can’t advocate leaving students out or behind. If we do, then we need only half the teachers and staff along with even less funds. Or is this being advocated? State funding cuts also factor into what we can and can’t do. One way we are affected is the state’s change in the funding formula (dollars per day per student) based on attendance. If students are not in school, we have a negative impact to the funds we receive. Even if a student is present half of a day or only one hour, the formula prorates based on the attendance time and thus we receive less funds. All this affects what we can and can’t afford to do. Yes, it is a shame we don’t have a larger variety of courses because the needs and state funding is different. We can’t stop change and wishing won’t get the old days back, but together we can adapt and develop different and better strategies which I think Mr. Wahlen is advocating.

Again, as a past school board member, I know for a fact that each year the school board holds a hearing to present the budget and prior to that there is up front work with input from the building administrators. I can’t honestly say we really get good solid standing ideas and suggestions from patrons in a TIMELY fashion for consideration. Patrons must also be willing to understand that there are state funding requirements tied to where and how the funds are utilized. We are NOT ALLOWED to co-mingle or take funds from one area to another in a majority of areas. I am sure there are ideas out there, but if they are not brought forward in a timely fashion they cannot be considered for strategy development. As patrons we must also willingly include educating ourselves to understand fund and money use constraints. If we aren’t willing to take the time to understand these things, then we ourselves, are to blame and are part of the problem; we cannot dump it all on one person or solely on the board. The board members are entrusted to oversee the big financial picture, ensure strong, contributing and inclusive leadership. Is it preferable for the administrators to live here? Yes, but is it necessary if the skills, capability and commitment are present? School leadership requires commitment, doing what is right for the district, following laws, positive contribution both verbally and visibly regardless of the direction set (whether in agreement or not), and in many cases monetarily, for it takes working with your staff to seek grants or other funds when they are out there and available so we can stretch our dollars. We should try to refrain from shooting the messenger; otherwise, whoever leads our district as a board member or superintendent will be no better off; for who would want to come live here? Who would want to work here? Or serve in any capacity as a leader when faced with possibly being treated with disrespect, disregard for policy or standards, or being addressed with less than human dignity?

As caring and concerned patrons, you have supported our district financially and by voting in support of levies and bonds. Without you we would struggle even more so than we have up to this point. We have teachers that we need to keep because they are caring and are performing their jobs. Again, the things pointed out as needed by Mr. Wahlen, are valid points and possibly the start of a vision. At this time I am sure the board will listen to the patrons on both sides of the aisle. The board is fully aware of the money constraint situations, capability and strength in the administrative staff, and will work on setting forth new expectations and direction. We must all be willing to help begin a five to 10 year strategy development and move forward. We can’t change the past, but we have begun to set new directions and/or expectations for that future direction. We all have to play a positive part and contribute positively. We really need to play as a team regardless of our differences in point of view because I believe we all want our schools to be the best. Everyone brings something to the table. Together we can make our schools and our systems better. Lets do so with dignity and respect, so we keep and draw talented people and strong, capable committed leadership to our education system.

Respectfully,

Irene Barrett

 

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