VIEWPOINT:   Potential summer school cut a symptom of unclear mission

I am concerned about the budget cuts pending for the Marion school district. I know very little about the ongoing process and have not been present at any of the board discussions, but I am aware of one proposed cut that throws the baby out with the bathwater.

The proposed cut is summer school. According to teachers I know and trust, this is a bad idea. My personal opinion is that this type of decision runs counter to living by the Word and “protecting the least of these.”

Summer school has happened like clockwork since at least 1993, when we moved to Marion, and has probably been a staple of our educational platform for many years prior. It is the one chance for “at-risk” students to spend extended and quality time with a teacher to work on critical skills and to develop a new kind of relationship with an adult who has their best interest at heart.

Again, I have limited information on this issue, however, my understanding is that this cut has not been openly discussed at the board meeting to date. Further, I have a copy of a letter that was written to each of the board members, and the superintendent and elementary principal, which sets out a professional and heartfelt argument in favor of keeping summer school. At the writing of this, the letter writer has received no response.

I suspect the failure to respond and the failure to discuss the subject in front of the public is due to the obvious fallout that will occur. To keep summer school, an estimated $15,000 would have to be cut from another program.

I believe the board is going to cut summer school by simply delaying the needed conversation, because if we were going to have summer school, the planning, staffing, and student referrals would have already started. I expect the board will delay and when the issue is finally discussed, it will be too late to put the program in action.

Does the district or the elementary school have a mission statement or a guiding principal to follow when making the hard decisions? All the well-led districts have them.

These statements are built from the ground up. They are agonizingly debated as they seek buy-in from all teachers and administrators and other staff, but, when they are accepted and followed, they are used as a rail to keep the train on target and help the public see that the issue was solved in a manner based on educational principals rather than personal opinion or an administrator’s request.

I know that we do not have such a statement. (Editor’s note: The school board has goals posted on its web site, see below.) I also know that five years ago the process to create such a statement was painstakingly led by a teacher who was working on her administrative practicum. Unfortunately, the leadership of the district failed to recognize the absolute necessity of adopting a guiding principal, and again a lack of discussion killed the effort.

How can you accomplish a mission if you can’t define it?

— Dan Baldwin, Marion

 

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