A Morning Walk and a New Perspective on Public Schools

I was walking my dog one morning last week, right about the time children were going to school.

A car passed by, slowed down and pulled over. The driver turned off the car, got out and walked toward me.

I got ready for a tough conversation. See, the school board had just voted an increase in local real estate taxes.  My colleagues and I had been hearing from residents – mostly from those who were unhappy.

Instead, I could see she was smiling. She said, “I want you to know I appreciate the work you do on the school board. I realize it is hard sometimes. My son goes to private school – a family tradition – but we support funding for public schools. I just wanted to let you know.”

The sun shined brighter. I swear everyone who drove past after that was smiling at me. Maybe not quite, but it sure lifted my spirits.

People do support public schools. If we approach our work with that attitude, we will continue to make progress.

Staying optimistic about public schools isn’t just to make us feel good, it is to make us BE good. It is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation.

The Question of Charter Schools

Also that week, I attended an event held to launch an organization to promote charter schools in Kentucky.

I believe most of the leaders of the effort are in it to help kids.  But, one unfortunate outcome of the charter school effort is the tearing down of public schools by political leaders, often without the facts.

Interestingly, a big part of the presentation was from parents and a student who were having success in public schools, and from an organization that works in partnership with the system operating an after school program.

The takeaways were about supports and interventions that work: parent involvement, extra learning time.  These are efforts we emphasize and are investing money in this upcoming school year. 

Noting that not all charter schools are successful, the leader of the national organization said that they shut down those subpar schools, perhaps to reassure the audience that they are responsive when things aren’t working.

In a side conversation, our superintendent, Dr. Donna Hargens, asked rhetorically, ‘where do kids go when a charter is closed?’ The answer of course is: back to the public schools.

The Public School Bottom Line

Public schools serve ALL kids: those who don’t apply, children who arrive hungry, teens who are also parents, who have psychological issues or behavior difficulties, need remediation, suffer from severe physical disabilities, as well as those who excel academically and in the arts.

The fallback option of public schools should be our first best effort.  102,000 students in Jefferson County depend on us. And, we have important policy and funding decisions to make to continue progress.

The stakes are high: education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation.

As this year gets underway, let’s remember the strong support we have for our public schools from people like my neighbor.

ALSO…take a look at Stu Silberman’s new post on EDWEEK — “Enough is Enough” — all about the importance of school funding:


About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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1 Response to A Morning Walk and a New Perspective on Public Schools

  1. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Debbie. Not to take anything away from private schools, but public schools were formed at the founding of our nation to support our democracy through an informed citizenry. They are charged with equalizing opportunities for children in our society and while they have not always successfully met that challenge, I still believe they are our best hope to do so.

    Deborah Walker

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