Commentary

Our schools heading for crisis

COURTRIGHT_200This candidate statement is a listener service of Raven Radio. It is not an endorsement of the candidate. All candidates for municipal office have been offered the same opportunity to broadcast and publish a statement.

My name is Stephen Courtright, candidate for Sitka School Board.

We are at a time of crisis in the history of public education in the United States. Numerous forces are conspiring to devalue the importance of professional educators, to defund our children’s learning, and to minimize the importance of community schools. At a time like this, our schools must be led by people with a deep understanding of policy at all levels and with the greatest possible knowledge of the priorities of life in the classroom.

Federal and state legislation has, for the past decade or so, dramatically minimized the role of the professional educator. Teachers and administrators are being handed mandates in the form of alphabet soup laws and decrees. These are, ostensibly, designed to help our children perform better. In reality, many of them merely result in the collection of data that is used improperly or in a statistically invalid manner, in turn reflecting negatively on our schools. What should be about helping students becomes a game of shifting numbers in order to keep from being labeled a failing school, with the stigma and consequences attached to that.

Our state legislature is failing our children. I cannot say it any more plainly than that. They have failed to raise the Base Student Allocation since 2011, while every school expense has increased in that time. Transportation costs and the heating and cooling of our buildings are continuing to climb. With the advent of new standards (nearly identical to Common Core, but not quite), we must undertake the rewriting of curriculum and the replacement of texts, which will be quite pricey. On top of all of this, the federal funding that Sitka School District has relied upon for years is not the stable source of cash that it once was. We ask the State and Assembly for extra money every year, but it is imperative that we face the hard truths now and begin to plan for a future in which our financial base looks quite different.

In such a time of crisis, the hand of an educator is needed at the tiller. A hospital in crisis would need competent administration, but it would also need the guidance of medical professionals to determine the needs of its constituent population. We have a school district that is approaching crisis, but there are no educational professionals sitting on the body that is charged with preventing that crisis. While it is great that there are members of the community who are aware that these community schools belong to us all and who have stepped forward to become knowledgeable about what it takes to preserve our schools, we simply do not have time anymore for learning about educational issues on the job. Who better to make decisions for our public schools than someone who reports to work every day at a public school and digests education policy not as a committed volunteer activity but as a professional responsibility?

I cannot solve every problem that exists systemically within our community nor every problem visited upon us by governmental bodies with poor priorities. I can promise, however, as a parent and an educator, to make decisions that are best for our children and for their growth as people.

To place a professional educator on your school board, please vote for Stephen Courtright on October 1.

The municipal election in Sitka is Tuesday, October 1, 2013.

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