Lack of input disappointing
Sep 27, 2012 | 1681 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s not often that the general public gets an opportunity to shape the future of a public institution. But that’s exactly what’s taking place with the Twin Valley School District. Two visioning meetings have been held over the past week, giving residents of the district and those in surrounding towns the opportunity to weigh in on how the new schools might take shape. In particular, school officials have been looking for guidance in academic programs and the mission of the schools.

It’s a good idea, and refreshing that school officials are looking for input from the general public. In fact, the whole process of combining schools in Wilmington and Whitingham has been a very open process from the beginning. Certainly there has been some pain, and some have not agreed with the results, but the transparency and involvement have been part of the standards set by school board officials in both towns.

For all the hue and cry about schools not doing this and that, it’s disappointing to know that only five interested people turned out in Whitingham last Thursday at the visioning meeting for the new Twin Valley school district. Wilmington’s turnout Tuesday was a little better, with 18 interested people in attendance.

That means less than 1% of the combined population of Wilmington and Whitingham showed any interest in attending those meetings.

We find this curious, given how many people say they want to have input into how their local schools are run. But, as if often the case, attendance at the two meetings shows that those words are often empty.

Many say they want local control of schools, say they want to keep big government out of them. That’s all well and good, but when only five people show up to offer their input on what a school of the future could look like, it raises the question: “How much control do they really want?”

Maybe there are too many other distractions. Life often gets in the way of even the best intentions. Maybe it is a feeling of helplessness, of feeling like a school board or administration may not really listen and take action.

Maybe it’s a matter of not feeling part of the process. Sometimes in education-related meetings, professionals get bogged down in minutiae and industry jargon. We often call that jargon “edu-babble,” and it can get even the most informed participant lost.

To their credit, school board officials admit they probably should have had more advanced information and awareness of what the goals of the visioning meetings were. Board members and administrators are looking ahead, trying to build that “21st century” school that will give students over the next 20 to 30 years an education that will prepare them for real-world challenges. Parents with children in school are often focused on the here and now. Others without school-aged children may be looking back to how schools were run when they were involved. Some advance preparation might have helped increase participation in the meetings.

Regardless, the bottom line is that residents and voters can’t just whine about schools and the way they are run. They need to get involved. Many like to talk about what they’d do with schools. Here’s a chance to actually have some input on designing schools for generations to come.

It’s too bad so few people seized that opportunity.
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