Last night was the freshman parent meeting at our high school. I was filled with a lot of angst. For the last couple of years I have heard many anxious parents talk about how hard it is for our children to graduate with the necessary credit requirements while still being exposed to valuable enrichment courses. The state of Michigan has been raising the bar in all our schools to better resemble the national level of achievements, and rightly so. Our kids need to be more academically challenged and more competitive when applying for college and later in the workforce. Our children can no longer skate by on a strong GPA but need to show that they are team players, committed to their communities, can balance extra-curricular activities with academics and demonstrate leadership qualities.
I felt completely blind-sided last night realizing that high school is no longer a four-year process. It really begins in middle school and bleeds into the summers between each high school year. The Tortoise is going to have to take summer school in order to keep up with the national trends. At first I felt very foolish, second guessing my note-taking from last night, trying to convince myself that perhaps I was just demonstrating the characteristics of a self-absorbed, over-achieving, over-involved parent. Until I talked to my mom this morning. She is a recently retired teacher and Academic Dean who has seen major changes in education over the last twenty years. My mom was kind enough to let me vent and spout off my frustrations.
“I mean seriously, mom! If families want their kids to take band AND choir then they should send them to a Fine Arts High School!”
But, of course, as soon as I was done talking out of my ass, she politely educated me.
She let me know that my community is no different than any other community in the nation. If our high school didn’t provide the multitude of enrichment, advanced classes and sports that they do, then our kids would be at a national disadvantage. Their “good grades” won’t be enough to get in the colleges of their choice. My mom also said that this change in high school curriculum really started happening about 6 or 7 years ago, and will only get more competitive and technology driven each year. The days of high school that I remember are long gone.
Here’s what really saddened me though. As I listened to parent concerns, the one thing that stood out and related to all of the comments was funding. Our district is currently one of the least funded districts in the state of Michigan. We have not increased funding to our schools in 14 years, not even our technology. According to High-Schools.com, our school has the 5th largest enrollment in the state of Michigan and yet only 11.5% of our student population is on free or reduced lunches, which makes me think that we have a community of educated, hard-working families, a community of people who want their children to have academic and financial success. What also surprised me was finding out that our high school is ranked 31 out of the top 100 best high schools in the whole state of Michigan, and that’s not just public high schools, that includes private, charter, fine arts and vocational high schools.
DW reminded me today though, that the kids graduating from our high school now, the ones that have gone through the district since kindergarten, have been better supported financially than the children coming in to the district now. Think about it, 12 or 14 years ago our district was better funded. I still have another child in the school district too. It will be another five years before she reaches high school and I can’t even imagine how much more of a disadvantage she will be if we don’t support our school district now.
It’s misleading to see negative comments on websites like Great Schools, where parents complain about the class selections or the cleanliness or conditions of our campus because at the end of the day, those things need money to improve. A lack of funds has led to a decrease in custodial staff and grounds keeping, contracted bus and food service as well as putting a hold on improving many programs and resources. I am amazed at how much is still available to our students based on the available funds. Teachers have taken pay cuts and yet continue to provide before or after school tutoring in many of the core classes. Some even supplement their classrooms with funds out of their own pocket or volunteer their time to help support after school activities. I am grateful for the teachers in both of my children’s lives who have sought out supplemental resources to overcome the challenges of aging technology, outdated textbooks and inadequate supplies. Public school in general is really geared toward the average student, and yet our district continues striving to provide resources for the advanced student and the special needs student even on their limited funding.
As I scanned the other schools within a reasonable driving distance to our home that rank above us, one thing many of them seem to have in common is better financial support from their community. They are investing in their children’s future at a higher level. It’s no secret that part of the reason we chose this house, in this area, was because the taxes were lower than the surrounding counties, but that also means that our schools are receiving less funding. It’s a double-edged sword. And it effects more than just our children. The future of our community suffers. Young families won’t move here because the town over offers newer, more technologically advanced, cleaner schools. Other communities provide recreational centers, family friendly pools and safe athletic facilities, all of which bring money to the community and increase our property values.
The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” holds so much more meaning to me now that we are facing this major decision as a community to vote on a new bond in May. It truly does take a village to come together in order to help each other provide an environment of success for all of our children and for the children of our children. The numbers always seem so big and unattainable, but when you break it down per household it truly equates to a family dinner at Wendy’s once a month. Of course, each family’s contribution is based on their financial situation. It’s a sliding scale. However, for us, I think $10 or $11 a month is a small amount to contribute in order to secure a better quality of life for my family and for the families in my community.
Could monies be better allocated? Could administration improve? Would it be nice to have more quality teachers? Of course, but that is the case in any school district and unless I’m willing to serve on the school board or be present at every vote, I have to trust those that are involved to make wise decisions and be sure I understand the needs of my community. I implore anyone facing a bond increase in their community to really research and understand how their children and community will be impacted before making a rash decision. Without proper funding not much can change – it’s like trying to put the cart before the horse.
Go to any informational meetings, talk to your administration, read print material, look at the available on-line resources and think about what your child’s future is really worth.