The Bare Minimum

I spoke to the Northeast Florida rotary club the other day. If you don’t know what the Rotary club is, it’s a business/civic group. They like me are concerned about the direction education in Jacksonville is heading. They like me believe that economy, crime and civility or lack thereof all has their roots in education and they like me are nervous.

Even though I was invited into talk about education issues, I started by talking about the city. I talked about how two interstate highways intersect here and how we are on the ocean and have a major river, a port, an international airport and one of the best park systems in the country. I talked about the Jags and how we are close to entertainment hubs. I talked about how we have lots of room for growth and how much of the infrastructure is already in place to do so and I finished by talking about how we are a pro business city, in a pro business state and we don’t have an income tax. I then asked them why we aren’t turning businesses away and why aren’t we picking and choosing top businesses to come here. I told them I believed it was because of our education system and the work force they are putting out.

I then gave them a few stats, like half the kids in high school can’t read or do math on grade level. That seventy percent of graduates that go to Florida State College at Jacksonville have to take remedial classes. How as the cities population continues to grow it’s school system continues to contract because families are turning to private schools and home schooling something that is only happening here in Jacksonville and nowhere else in the state. Then I mentioned how nobody on the current school board had taught in a Duval County classroom in over a decade and asked if they could see a relationship between all of this.

I then talked about teachers, what I think more so than buildings and technology are the districts number one resource and how I believe the better they are, the better they will do for our children. I wasn’t talking about education and training either because as a group they are extremely well trained and capable. I was talking about not over loading them with task after task many of which only had a peripheral relationship with education. I talked about supporting them and removing kids that were maladaptive and not putting them in unattainable positions and then blaming them when they came up short. I talked about not disrespecting them which is how many felt when the superintendent surprised them just days before they were to report with him breaking the contract. There’s nothing wrong with having lofty goals, teachers are all about accountability, and teachers know they are tough economic times. They just want to be treated like the professionals they are and to be put in a position where they and their children have a chance for success, something sadly to many teachers and students throughout the district are not.

I then took some questions and one of the questions was, what could we do to make things better? I took a deep breath and sighed before I responded. Well there are a lot of things that we can do but aren’t but why don’t we start with something that doesn’t call for reinventing the wheel or breaking the bank, why don’t we start with insisting the school board does the bare minimum, which we aren’t even close to doing now. They seemed a little puzzled as I paused.

We need to give students a snap shot how the real world works. If they come to school behave and work hard they will be rewarded. If they come to school and act up or don’t try then there will be consequences. Now children don’t receive true consequences for their behavior and often it worsens and we also push so many along without the skills they need to be successful. While doing so we teach other kids lessons like their behavior doesn’t matter and it’s okay not to try, lessons they shouldn’t learn anywhere let alone in schools. Then every year we graduate a significant amount of children who aren’t prepared for anything. If we did the bare minimum we could save some of those kids, maybe a lot of those kids. Lets start with the bare minimum and then go from there. That’s what I told them they could do to help.

I then asked them, don’t our city, its teachers and our children at least deserve the bare minimum? They thought so and so do I. In reality we need so much more to be truly successful but hey we got to start somewhere.

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