by Frances Edstrom, columnist, Winona Post
It is perennially disheartening to read about public education in Winona. The never-ending cycle of budget crises, and the same old tired “solutions” — closing schools, cutting art, cutting music, moving younger and younger students out of small, manageable schools into large impersonal ones — is sickening.
Where are the discussions about children and, heaven forbid, good solid education? Where are the discussions about innovation? Why do we talk about test scores as though there are not young minds going begging behind those scores. Who are the children who can’t read, can’t do math, can’t write a coherent sentence? Those kids have a small window of time in their lives to learn the things they need to know before becoming adults who will succeed, not fail.
If our public schools can’t educate children — yes, even children whose parents don’t want, or don’t know how, to champion them through elementary and high school — it is no wonder that charter and parochial schools thrive while public school enrollments decline.
The public schools need to identify the assets in what they have, instead of constantly moaning about the liabilities. Instead of real estate being a drag on the budget, how about cataloging its worth? Does it make sense to close in-town elementary schools, which won’t bring top dollar if sold? Or should there be a look at the worth of the middle and high schools, one sitting on perfect industrial land, the other on lakeside property in a city begging for new industrial and residential solutions?
Instead of depriving children of the very things that make them want to come to school, such as art and music, and things that will prepare them for a global economy, such as foreign languages and rigorous STEM programs, why not look for efficiencies and cuts in areas that don’t have a direct impact on them, such as administration and support staff? How about finding grants to fund programming?
The history of instability in our public schools has taken a toll on everyone involved — kids, parents, teachers, administrators, board, citizens and businesses. I am glad that my children are out of school. They were among the students who excelled, but they often had to fight for it. They fought against a small but powerful coterie of petty administrators and embittered teachers, chaotic scheduling and a pervasive atmosphere of fear and unhappiness.
Change that mindset, begin to value assets rather than nurture liabilities, and our public schools could become a better, more stable system with better-educated children who deliver better test scores and live happier lives.