Thursday, April 8, 2010

Troubling Times

Times are really bad in Arizona from an economic standpoint. Our legislature has never been one to believe in education and fund it. Arizona is usually somewhere at the bottom of the states when it comes to per pupil spending. With the current economic crisis, it has even gotten worse. I thought last year at this time was bad, but it is nothing like what we are dealing with right now.

There will be a special election held on May 18th to determine if we can add a 1 cent sales tax to help fund public education. Even with that, we are still in major trouble. However, if it doesn't pass, we will lose so much. When I say we, I mean everyone loses--children, families, teachers, and staff. It is very sad to see so many valued employees and programs that will be gone if it doesn't pass. I HATE THIS FOR MANY REASONS!!

Our legislature decided that they would no longer fund all day kindergarten. All of the districts around ours decided that they would continue to fund it, even at the expense of other programs. What is required of our kindergarteners is unbelievable. Our superintendency and the elementary principals all recommended to our Governing Board that all day kindergarten continue. I was asked to speak for the elementary principals at the Work Study on Tuesday night. I prepared a speech and then sent it to all of my colleagues for input. At the meeting when I went up to speak, 26 of my fellow principals all stood as I spoke to the board--WOW!! I was honored and proud to be representing this group of dedicated professionals.

Here is what I said on Tuesday:

On behalf of the Elementary Principals in the Gilbert School District, I would like to speak to the Board.

It has been my privilege to be an educator in the Gilbert Unified School District for the past 39 years. Over the years, I have seen so many changes in Gilbert that have contributed to making it the finest school district in the state of Arizona. The commitment and dedication of classified staff, teachers, administrators, and Governing Board members as well as the support of our parent community have all been key in making this District what it is today.

I have had the honor of working with many fine people over the years through some very tough times. However, I have never seen nor encountered anything that even compares to what we are facing today in our district and our state. Those of us in the trenches are experiencing this first hand each and every day!

We are being asked to educate children with fewer and fewer resources and more and more stressors in the lives of everyone in our society. The current economic crisis has tied the hands of our Governing Board and Administration in so many ways. We have to be competitive in the “education market” with charter schools as well as other school districts.

I recently had a young man shadow me for a day who works in a very poor district in metropolitan Phoenix. He told me that two school districts that border his district actually send buses to pick up students and bring those student to the neighboring school districts. I did not know that those things occurred and that greatly worries me that some of our surrounding districts that offer full day kindergarten might actually bus our students to their schools. This could have a long-term economic impact on Gilbert.

But that isn’t my biggest concern about our district funding all day kindergarten. My biggest concern is that our children will be forced to play catch up as the enter first grade. What is required in kindergarten today, is not what was required a few years ago. Some of our children who do not have as many opportunities because of family and economic situations are already behind when they start school. Our number of children on free and reduced lunch has grown from approximately 16% in 2007 to 26% today. We absolutely need to give Gilbert students every opportunity to compete in a global market. And, yes, I believe that full day kindergarten is vital to their academic success.

I must say how much I respect and admire my colleagues in the superintendency, as well as the 26 other elementary principals that I work with on a regular basis. Over the past several months, we have had philosophical discussions that have become heated at times. However, the one constant that I have ALWAYS observed is the caring for our children and wanting to do the very best for these children.

Dr. Allison and the superintendency have recommended to the Board that Gilbert Schools fund full day kindergarten. As a group, our elementary principals wholeheartedly endorse this recommendation.

I recognize and respect the agonizing decisions that are going to have to be made over the next month or so by the Governing Board. None will be easy because we are talking about people, not just programs. The Gilbert District will continue to be a place for a “world class education” because of the dedication of our administration and our Governing Board.

Helen Keller said that once she knew only darkness and stillness. Her life was without past or future…but a little word from the fingers of a teacher fell into her hand that clutched the emptiness, and her heart leaped to the rapture of living! This is why 39 years later, I still come to work for the Gilbert School District each and every day and still look forward to making a difference in the life of a child. All of our schools are unique and different and all of my colleagues are out there every day creating a future for the students in the Gilbert School District.

I felt positive that the Board would listen to the people in the trenches and the superintendents who deal with issues every day--was I ever wrong!! Only one member took our recommendation. The other four did not feel that all day kindergarten is worth funding.

I truly believe that this was a very misguided decision. I think it will have long-term economic and academic implications to the students of our district. I am sad that our professional opinions weren't valued.

But more than that, I am sad that so many of the wonderful teachers that I have worked with for many years are being "riffed" (reduction in force). It is devastating!!

I hope all of you readers out there who live in Arizona will vote on May 18th.


3 remarks:

Anonymous said...

It was so nice to hear about all your great support at the meeting Sheila ~ except for the people that voted against education. So sad and scary. It makes me realize even more that I got out of education at the right time. I feel terrible for all those who still have to endure this madness.
Love & hugs,

Julie said...

These times are scary and what is happening to education across this nation is maddening. I am so sad for what is happening in Arizona....sad about how they are going to RIF teachers. Here in Washington and in my district we are looking at having to cut possibly 6 million dollars...yikes! Although my job is totally safe (thank god for the Union..and having years under my belt) I am anxious about what will be cut for next year.

This is the hardest time of a school year when all is going well. Even more trying when you add all of this. My thoughts and prayers are with you these last few weeks will be so emotionally draining. You will be leaned on on your strength and support!

Meags said...

Thank you.