07/14/07 — In the balance: Community needs to be clear about its educational priorities

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In the balance: Community needs to be clear about its educational priorities

The priorities are in and soon, hopefully, there will be a facilities budget in place for the Wayne County schools.

Then, what?

Over the last few months, there has been much talk about where this community needs to spend the money that is going to be designated for the improvement of the county’s schools.

Some say it should go to buildings first, that students who are sitting in bedraggled old buildings cannot possibly concentrate on their studies — or think too much of their futures. They add that buildings that have been neglected are even more expensive to fix, and that waiting too much longer could have serious financial consequences. Waiting too long already got the county into trouble with the condition of its facilities, they say. Now is the time to address the problem.

Others say that what is wrong with Wayne County Schools goes much deeper than the buildings. They say that improving programs for students, and rewarding and keeping the best teachers available should be the district’s top priority. Buildings can come later, they say.

Who is right? No one is completely on target.

It is true that bricks and mortar do not make a first-class school system. Programs do matter, but there are other intangibles to factor in as well. Student performance is tied in part to teacher competence, but also to the individual’s will to learn. To provide quality programs to an unmotivated student body is an exercise in futility.

That means that without a strong community dedicated to the pursuit of education for all students — and graduation for most — money spent on programs is wasted. Before buildings and program plans, this county needs a commitment from residents, parents and others that indeed, a top-flight education system is their top priority, and they are willing to pay for it and support it.

So, like fancy buildings, fancy programs with brillant teachers mean nothing if there is no solid base of encouragement regarding education and success from the parents and motivation to learn within the student himself.

But the buildings matter, too. Rundown facilities — even though many school personnel have done a fine job making it look like they aren’t — send a message to children. They signal that schools are not a priority here. And you know what happens when children think something doesn’t matter.

So, is there no answer to the balance?

No, there is a way to get both better facilities and better programs right here in Wayne County.

It starts with making a priority list of our own.

The discussion should begin soon on the suggestion of a school bond. County and school leaders will want to know what we as a community will support.

We should tell them — loud and clear.

By sharing in the discussion, we can make a clear decision on what we want to see for our schools now and in the future.

And right now, that should be our top priority.

Published in Editorials on July 14, 2007 10:56 PM