Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 7, 2016

Good or progressive schools?

By Brooks Taylor

By BROOKS TAYLOR

Mt. Pleasant News

Imagine for a minute that you are a business owner being courted by communities.

While meeting with each group of community leaders, each leader extols the virtues of his/her communities, generally beginning with quality of life issues — good streets, low crime and good schools.

You can assess the quality of the streets for yourself and go back through issues of the local newspaper to research police activity. But how do you determine if schools are good and what is the definition of good?

It is virtually impossible to determine the quality of a school, unless of course, you spent time in a number of other schools to make a comparative judgment. And taking a person’s word of it is a mistake too.

One of the criterion I use for determining the quality of a school district is its progressiveness. However, that should not be the only one of the criteria. State awards, test scores, etc. would be determining factors.

Wednesday night the Mt. Pleasant Community School District hosted an education forum. Seventeen people, including just one of the seven school board members, attended. That was a disappointment that in a school district with 2,000 students only 16 parents cared enough to learn what was going on in their children’s schools.

But while I was disappointed, that disappointment was not shared by Superintendent Dr. John Roederer. He said at the beginning of the meeting, he was hoping for 10 people to attend and attendance nearly doubled his expectations. Why such low expectations?

I would have hoped at least a quorum of school board members would have attended. It is their job to shape policy for the district and how can you shape policy when you don’t know the pulse of the public. But then again, there was not enough public there to get a pulse.

One quarter of the residents attending was from Salem. They felt it was important enough to drive 25 miles round trip but others living much closer did not have the same urge.

As the forum was drawing to a close, Dave Helman of Salem said he, too, was disappointed in the attendance. “These public forums are important, yet attendance is poor. It is disturbing that only one school board member is present. We all appreciate their service but it will be difficult for the school board to shape policy if they do not hear citizens’ concerns first hand.”

Helman and I don’t agree on everything, but I do value his insight and his opinions. One of the things we do agree on, though, is that the local school district should be more progressive, especially in terms of technology.

I have been covering the Mt. Pleasant School Board for about 19 months. Never has the 1:1 initiative been mentioned. The 1:1 initiative is a program whereby students receive laptop computers. It is a rather new concept but I know of one district in Iowa that is in the fifth year of the program. Officials from that school district have told me that it has had a profound impact on student test scores and education in general.

Yet I was told by a Mt. Pleasant School Board member that there has not been enough research done to validate the success of the program. That simply is not true. I have seen the research. There are several school districts in the eastern part of the United States that have had the program for much longer than Iowa and have expressed the same sentiments as the aforementioned district in Iowa.

Helman, too, knows that time is a wasting. “Other districts are moving ahead with aggressive steps. For example, New London and Central Lee are among the many districts signing on to the Apple Computer 1:1 initiative. Many of these schools are not on (No Child Left Behind) watch lists. We are. Worldwide students have the option of four and five (foreign) languages. Mt. Pleasant High School has only one. It is good for us to further study the options but if this leads to what is known as paralysis by analysis, we will continue to fall behind.”

Cost is almost always listed by school officials as an impediment. Is there a better way of spending money than doing your duty — providing your students with the best education options available?

I think not.