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Close to Home: The need for public input on education changes

  • This artwork by Nancy Ohanian relates to education reform.

The winds of change for public education are blowing.

After years of unrealistic goals, unfunded mandates, and a punitive approach to education, few feel the federal government has a clue as to what is best for our children. Couple this with the great recession and a state government that has traditionally only paid lip service to fully funding education, and it is easily understood why educators, parents and communities at large are demanding changes to education that include returning more control of education to the local level.

The call for reform is coming from multiple sources. The common core, which has national implications, promises a new approach to curriculum that focuses on critical and creative thinking as opposed to a bubble-test driven curriculum. Gov. Jerry Brown's new education funding method, called the "Local Control Funding Formula," although not adding new money to the system, aims at directing more resources to the neediest California students and gives local school districts more control over how they prioritize spending.

Another aspect of this formula is a requirement that local education planning include teachers, parents and the general public in its goal setting process.

The Santa Rosa City Schools Board of Education along with its superintendent met several times over the summer for the purpose of developing a strategic plan for Santa Rosa City Schools. The purpose of this plan is to move our district in coherent and purposeful direction over the next several years. The plan, which is in its public input stage, is asking teachers, parents and the community at large for their thoughts.

Strategic planning serves a dual purpose. First, it updates the districts goals and priorities. This also dovetails with the new requirements of the governor's funding formula. A critical difference from the past practice of developing a strategic plan is the focus on inclusiveness. The input of teachers, staff, parents and the community is critical to the development of a successful district strategic plan.

Local input is also a part of the new requirements. Teacher, parent and community input is essential to the development of our educational goals and strategies and ultimately to the success of our plan. Public meetings are scheduled over the next month at a variety of locations and times in both English and Spanish. The schedule of meetings as well as the initial work done by the board is available on the Santa Rosa City Schools website: www.srcs.k12.ca.us

It is imperative that what emerges as the final plan has a meaningful and transparent accountability system built into it. Although still in the refining stage, Brown's formula also puts the main focus of accountability on the local school district. It follows that if local educators, parents and the community have the greatest voice in determining what students should know and be able to do after 13 years of public education, then they should have a significant voice in accessing this.

The movement toward a more relevant and engaging curriculum, focusing more resources on students with the greatest needs, the push for more local control and the emphasis on inclusiveness in the planning process are reasons to be optimistic about public education.

However, it should not be forgotten that the "corporate reformers," whether driven by ideology, the desire to turn public schools into "for profit" schools or the desire to privatize public education are still out there. Their foundations and organizations are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting their models of reform.


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