Monday, January 21, 2013
One by One, we can help our students and our future
We are the brain trust for improving our public schools for all of our children.
During the years of depression and war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assembled some of the greatest minds of his time to coordinate efforts to create a better nation. Today, our elected and appointed leaders have a broad and deep reservoir of ideas and solutions in our community.
Mayor Alvin Brown was right when he said that the key to reducing crime lies in our efforts to transform education to prepare us for the future. Our economy and our quality of life depend on the students of today who will be entering careers and jobs that will form the foundation of our community.
This is why I support the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF). They are working with the best existing resources in our community to seek consensus for constructive change in how we educate our children. We can either take a greater interest in building strong minds or we can continue to squabble and argue while more of our youngest citizens fall behind.
I know that we can all agree that we can passively lament the crime and poverty that plague Duval County. I, too, have been guilty of turning the channel when the latest tragedy unfolds on the evening news. In our provincialism, we tend to relegate these incidents to the back of our minds as they are supposedly limited to one neighborhood or section of town.
What JPEF accomplishes in their work is to open our eyes to the fact that we can only save a generation by addressing the needs of all of our children, one by one. On a personal level, I took great interest in JPEF as I observed their outreach to all stakeholders in our education system. The school board, educators, education support professionals, parents, students and businesses each have a voice, but we have been weakened by the lack of a unified mission. Through their community meetings, JPEF has succeeded in creating an honest and positive environment for all to be part of the change we sorely need.
I recently ratified the One by One Community Agreement, drafted by a convention of concerned citizens because I endorse their goals, drafted by the grassroots and the foot soldiers in our war against poverty and ignorance. The fact that JPEF actively and openly solicited buy-in from all comers is why I support their consensus-based goals.
Educate the whole child: It is essential that we foster a love for learning in all of our students. The problem with today’s education system is that we have become one dimensional in our zeal to make the basics (e.g. reading, writing and arithmetic) the central theme of educating our students. I believe that we should balance the cognitive and the affective needs of our children in a way that encourages them to appreciate the kind of creativity that fostered a spirit of invention and innovation that led the world in culture, technology and commerce. The whole child requires that we move away from one-size-fits-all learning that neglects the beauty of the world that we want to instill in our students. We also wish not to relegate education to merely bubbling in Scantron sheets and teaching them how to be better test takers.
Great teachers and leaders: The trouble with attracting men and women into the field of education has been that we have been focused on filling vacancies and positions. The gravity of the work that educators do requires a change in our consciousness. More than just mere parts of a large machine, educators are integral parts of an education system that should inspire the best and the brightest citizens to become teachers. Not only is learning a lifelong process, so is teaching. The recruiting of good teachers is only half the battle. It is necessary for us to continually train and develop strong teachers after they are hired. It is also necessary for us to treat these professionals with respect and dignity that we would afford to any other career field.
Policy and political reform: For as long as I remember, politics has been a battlefield that has left many good men and women scarred. The rough and tumble of the political debate has discouraged the very people to whom we should turn for support and solutions. I am grateful that JPEF is encouraging us to take a united front on behalf of our children and to let our elected and appointed leaders know that we will not give up until they listen to our concerns.
Family and caregiver involvement: At a recent town hall meeting with the new superintendent of schools, I heard Dr. Nikolai Vitti talk about the creation of programs to involve families in the education of their children. The bureaucracy and jargon of education speak is enough to scare away the most hardened of administrators and faculty. Imagine how a single parent might feel about having to deal with a labyrinth of paperwork and meetings that confound their attempts to do right by their sons and daughters. We cannot be afraid to adapt our schools and their norms to include more families rather than alienate them.
In closing, I dedicate my heart and my mind to helping to make these priorities a reality. I invite all interested parties to join me in doing so. Thank you, JPEF, for all that you do!