When it comes to improving our kids’ education, sometimes the adults have a hard time focusing on what’s important. In Douglas County, things have gotten out of hand, and precious time and attention have been diverted from what’s really important.
It’s time for the adults in the room to work together for the sake of our students and their futures. These adults include teachers, all school board members, principals, the superintendent, parents and other community partners. Instead of working at cross purposes, everyone should work in partnership to ensure that every Douglas County school is one where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach, and kids enjoy learning.
Too many issues before the board, including possible changes in the equity policy, have become divisive and volatile, disregarding the law and focusing on national political controversial wedge issues. This ignores the real issues in our school district — issues that relate to ensuring our students are receiving the best education possible. We need to hear each other out, stick to what’s important, and always ask if our priorities are ones that will move our kids forward and provide them a safe, stable, welcoming and well-rounded education.
To that end, here are a few areas that need to be addressed in a constructive manner:
● Every school, not just some as is currently the case, should have rigorous classes, engaging electives and well-funded extracurricular activities. All students should have access to robust instruction, higher-level math and science, and world languages. The district’s equity policy should address this.
● Teachers are leaving Douglas County schools, often for higher-paying districts that offer teachers greater respect. Poor recruitment and retention of teachers is a serious issue that affects our kids. The Douglas County schools should also help unite the community to approve the property tax, or millage, rate increase (MLO), giving the community a chance to voice their support for public education in the school district. Currently the divisive rhetoric from our leaders only serves to harm the chances of passing this much-needed increase.
● End the harmful rhetoric from certain district leaders and others attacking educators and students who are working toward a safe and inclusive classroom. This is already leading to intimidating tactics, such as posting photos online of classroom signs that say “All students welcome here” — as if it is a terrible thing that a teacher lets students and families know that all children are welcome in the class. Politically tinged divisive actions harm children’s social and emotional health, which can also affect student performance. We must ensure that kids want to come to school and enjoy learning, and that they feel safe and welcomed. This requires intentional steps so that every student feels respected, safe and ready to learn. The current equity policy was intended to help accomplish this and shouldn’t be diluted. The leaders of the district should be responsible for achieving an inclusive and professional environment.
All stakeholders in Douglas County schools need to unite for the sake of our kids’ educational outcomes and futures. Kids are at a critical moment in their education — especially since it was terribly disrupted over the past two years during the pandemic. The board and district also are at a critical moment as they change leadership and face major decisions.
There have been seven special school board meetings in three months, and none of them has focused on student needs or curriculum. Let’s get back on track and work to give our kids and our community great public schools. Let’s be laser-focused on the areas that will support high student performance and ignore other distractions. This could be a game-changer for everyone.
Kevin DiPasquale is president of the Douglas County Federation, the local teachers union.