We Need The Public Behind Public Schools

I’ve read a number of stories about public school progress lately. To ensure public support for more progress, you have to tell people about it.

The good thing is that here are plenty of successes to share. As JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens would say, “arrows are moving in the right direction.”

Just last week a speaker at the summer meeting of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents reminded the ed leaders to share good news.

“You have to be the chief morale officer of your district. It wasn’t part of the job description years ago, but today it is. We know the many wonderful things happening in our schools. Those good things are everyday happenings to you –but not to the general community.”

He added, “Public schools are doing better than ever but Americans don’t believe it. We have to learn how to make the truth sticky and how to unstick a sticky myth like public schools are failing.” The speaker, Dr. John Draper, is a former educator who now leads the National School PR Assn.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we hide the challenges. We know there are too many kids who are not successful, but we need the community to know that, for example, the graduation rate has been rising steadily in JCPS, Kentucky and the U.S.

Public school investment is paying off, and educators are working harder than ever to reach every child.

According to the 2014 update of the campaign Building A Grad Nation, the U.S. Class of 2012 progressed to an 80 percent four-year graduation rate. Groups with historically lower rates, like Hispanics and African Americans, posted the greatest gains. And, the report acknowledges that if data were included for graduates who took longer than four years, the rate would grow by about 5 percent.

Colin and Alma Powell, founders of America’s Promise, which produced this report, get it right. They lead with the positive, but point out the work ahead and that it will take all of us supporting the children of our communities.

“While we celebrate the nation’s progress, we remain focused on the challenges ahead….The barriers that block the path to graduation and preparedness go beyond the classroom. They often involve multiple, interconnected challenges – such as poor health, hunger, bullying, and housing insecurity – that make students more likely to miss school, disengage, and leave without graduating. Schools alone cannot meet these challenges. It takes all of us, working together: educators, families, nonprofits, businesses, government, and the media.”

The JCPS graduation rate has progressed steadily in recent years, to 76.5 percent in 2013. Of 21 high schools measured, only three missed that mark, with most well above. And, JCPS has programs that offer more than four years, which are essential. The story is, there are areas for improvement, but there is much to celebrate in the schools’ successes.

It truly will take all of us, working together in a spirit of real cooperation, to see more success. But remember to tell the stories of success so far, too.

(Thank you Brad Hughes of the Kentucky Schools Boards Association, from whose report I lifted the information about the KASS conference…)

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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