Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where Has All the Education Gone?

When you're a kid you never think you'll have to face this. But the time has now arrived for me to say it. Things are not the same as when I was young.  When I say "things" I mean my hometown. It makes me very sad to see good ol' C-Town fade into something I'm no longer proud of. Don't get me wrong, there are things that I absolutely LOVE about this place - some of the people, some of the restaurants (mmm...Hamburger Connection) and some of the old town charm. But I find myself just hurting by the way that it has failed to bloom into the close knit town that I used to idealize it as in my mind.

When I left for San Francisco in 2000, C-Town was intact though the signs had already begun. The farmland was being bought up and developed parcel by parcel, the little bit of "downtown" that we had began to be more "For Lease" and "For Sale" signs than storefronts. The card shop I LOVED in town closed as did my favorite sandwich shop. My second favorite sandwich shop was sold to another family who didn't keep the same good ingredients that I loved as a kid. Yes people...I love sandwiches. I will judge you on your sandwich skills.

Coming home for school breaks I saw it morphing and changing over the three years I was away, but I held hope in my heart that it the essence of the town would survive. I had faith. So much so that I bought my first house in town and set up my practice on what used to be the edge of town. Three years later I sold the house, but bought another one just two blocks away. My town would return. I wouldn't give up.

And yet now I am admitting a level of defeat.  It feels as though so much of town has also given up. Those who have been here for years are abandoning their business locations and moving east in order to grab traffic from the newish freeway exchange. Very little has come from the downtown renovations that have been planned for years. It looks better, but hasn't rejuvenated the area as planned and hasn't really proven functional.

The place I find myself most disappointed is in the educational system. I didn't particularly enjoy school from a social standpoint, but I felt like I had quite a few options to learn and grow. I had different classes and learning techniques available to me. I had wonderful teachers who treated me well and who I learned a lot from.  I went to school every morning not necessarily enthused, but in no way afraid for my safety.  The same school district that I was proud to defend against the surrounding areas is now one that I question. We send Darian to school just down the street from our house. He goes to public school. I'm happy about that. I think public school is a perfectly good way to educate your children. I think the teachers (for the most part) are great people with great care for their students who work hard beyond the level you would expect for the pay they receive. I never thought that I would want anything else for my kids. Now...I'm not so sure.

Last year I started paying attention to the things happening within our school board. As far as I could see, the real reason for the district started to get lost. Instead of making sure we have the best teachers for our students and that those teachers have the best resources available to them so that our children can learn and succeed, tax money went to administration and two interim superintendents. The teachers had their salaries cut and began to sacrifice their own money to provide students in their classrooms with the supplies they saw necessary. I appreciate that school supplies are provided by the district for K-5, but I think most families could probably handle buying $10-15 in school supplies for their children in exchange for that money going to budgets for the teachers to use within their classrooms, for books or for saving some of the arts programs that have been cut. I'm sure there are plenty who will disagree with me, but I know that my parents took care of myself and my brothers year after year regardless of the school supply list. We were not rich, but they made things work. I don't think it's an expectation above achievement.

The poor choices in budget cuts have lost us some wonderful educators. Speaking to those within the district, I have learned of at least three tenured and FANTASTIC teachers in Dar's elementary school alone who have chosen to retire earlier than they had planned rather than continue to teach under the circumstances that budgetary cuts and district/state changes have made in their salaries and abilities to teach. This saddens me more than I can say. The teachers I have heard about are fantastic ladies with amazing teaching abilities. One of them taught my younger brother and was one of his favorite teachers. I can't stand to watch us lose these amazing people.

Today was the final straw. I had already been upset by the fact that a new charter school was being built down the road. WHY??? I understand that maybe the district has gotten larger and that more parents are wanting the option of charter schools, but how about keeping teachers and using the schools we have instead of cutting aides (a kindergarten teacher dealing with 32 unruly 6-year-olds now gets no help?!?!), cutting pay and then paying for a new building?! I think the tax & bond monies used could have served the area's school population better in the current economical client.

Now I learn that this new charter school will be working as a bilingual teaching facility. I'm all for trying to help ESL students learn English and help them to move forward in their education. I'm supportive of teaching all students to be bilingual in the confines of a regular elective language program (with the language of their choice). But as far as I can see, teaching one half of the day in English and one half of the day in Spanish is just going to cause more problems. I look at Dar and KNOW that he would lose out. He is a smart kid and a quick learner, but having half his day be completely incomprehensible to him seems like a very large detriment. I think that he very well may pick it up as time goes on, but I don't want to risk sacrificing his learning the basics, the essentials in order to have him learn another language. Teaching the second language as a block during the normal day of study I could get on board with, but I want to make sure his reading, his math, his writing and comprehension skills remain on par.

I was talking with a patient today about this situation. He and his wife have chosen to pull their children out of public school. They are opting instead to home school using the online resources available through the state. While it's frustrating, I'm glad I'm not the only one worried about where things are headed.

I am unsure of where we will go from here. Dar will continue on at his elementary school this year. He has gotten into the Advanced Learning Program and we hope that this will challenge him and develop his natural skills. I remain uneasy about what will happen when he leaves elementary school in two years. The middle schools seem to be okay, but I am terrified of high school for him. Safety, educational standards and class opportunities (both diversity of class topics and the availability of advanced level courses) appear to be lacking as the level gets higher. I suppose only time will tell. It is just one more area where I hope that things will get better, but where I find that I am losing faith in my little hometown.


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