August 27, 2011 in Opinion

Local schools deserve praise

Gary Livingston Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

Benjamin Franklin is attributed with saying, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” On the cusp of a new school year, educators and students across the Eastern Washington region are recommitting to this investment so that they, and our region, will continue to reap its rewards.

As a member of the board of directors of the Educational Service District based in Spokane, one of nine ESDs in the state, my fellow board members and I are connected with and have the opportunity to support 59 public school districts and 45 state-approved private schools across seven counties, representing almost 95,000 preschool-through- 12th-grade students. Our diverse region includes the second-largest school district in the state and the state’s smallest district.

As we travel throughout the region and connect with each of these schools and districts, we are collectively impressed with the professionalism, dedication and talent of the educators and leaders who serve your children. In the second decade of the 21st century, expectations for students, schools and the educators who serve them have never been higher. What we see are districts, schools, educators and young people who accept such expectations and whose focus and hard work assure educational outcomes of which citizens of our region can and should be proud.

Despite the difficult challenges associated with shrinking state, district and school budgets, continuous improvement in school, educator and student performance is substantial.

A prevalent national conversation might lead some to believe that educational performance and outcomes are best and/or only measured by test scores, and some suggest our schools may not be of the quality they once were.

Test scores, we concur, are one important measure to be considered, but they should never be the only metric on which success is determined. Like adults, our children are whole people with a diversity of interests, passions and skills, and we see schools and educators who acknowledge and celebrate such diversity. Across our corner of the state, our schools, including their elected school board leaders and professional staff members, are striving to meet the needs and interests of each child and are determined that each is so much more than a single test score. Each of their parents knows this, and we meet parents regionwide who clamor for teachers who inspire, challenge and support their children – not just for teachers who get high test scores.

Though we acknowledge that continued academic improvement in our schools is needed, and agree that education – like every enterprise – is not perfect, we see daily evidence that performance and achievement, from both students and the adults who serve them, is in many cases greater than it’s ever been.

Just a couple of illuminating examples include the fact that 23 schools in our region received Washington Achievement Awards from the State Board of Education last spring, a higher percentage than in any other region in the state; Odessa High School senior-to-be Kira Powell won first place in Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in May and recently successfully competed internationally in London; and John Hagney, longtime outstanding social sciences teacher at Lewis and Clark High School, was recently selected as the region’s Teacher of the Year and will be a formidable competitor in the state Teacher of the Year process.

Optimistically, we believe our brightest days lie ahead. Schools, educators and students can and will continue to pursue ever higher levels of performance of and for all, never losing sight of the fact that a commitment to continuous improvement must be a shared goal in which each educator and student is personally engaged. Most importantly, for our region’s schools to improve, a continued partnership with and support of parents and larger communities is more critical than it has ever been.

Another of history’s finest leaders, Abraham Lincoln, said, “He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.” Critics of education – of today’s schools, educators and students – attempt to paint a picture that we don’t find accurate. Instead, we see very good schools getting better. To achieve our loftiest aspirations, which our students and the communities in the larger region deserve, support and partnerships are needed.

Our students are best served through interested and involved parents and guardians and by community mentors who can help illuminate possibilities for success. Our schools need and have earned the continued fiscal investment that citizens provide through local levies that are such an important part of the programs provided students, and teachers and staff deserve the support and collaboration needed to do their very best with and for the students in their care.

Together, we believe we should celebrate the achievements of our region’s students, educators and schools. As the new school year begins, my fellow board members and I suggest we all join together to redouble our efforts and commitment to excellence for and from each of them.

Dr. Gary Livingston is one of seven elected members of the NorthEast Washington ESD 101 board of directors, a former superintendent of the Spokane Public Schools and a retired chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane.


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