Guest column: Focus on education, not political ideology

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When it comes to improving the education of our children, adults sometimes find it difficult to focus on what is important. In Douglas County, things have spiraled out of control, and valuable time and attention have been diverted from what really matters.

It is time for the adults in the room to work together for the good of our students and their future. These adults include teachers, all school board members, principals, the superintendent, parents and other community partners. Instead of working at cross purposes, everyone should work in partnership to ensure that every school in Douglas County is where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach, and kids love to learn.

Too many board issues, including potential equity policy changes, have become divisive and volatile, ignoring the law and focusing on contentious national policy issues. This ignores the real issues of our school district – issues related to ensuring that our students receive the best education possible. We must listen to each other, stick to what is important, and always ask ourselves if our priorities are those that will move our children forward and provide them with a safe, stable, welcoming and well-rounded upbringing.

To that end, here are some areas that need to be constructively addressed:

● Every school, not just some as is currently the case, should have rigorous courses, interesting electives, and well-funded extracurricular activities. All students should have access to a solid education, higher-level math and science, and world languages. The district equity policy should address this issue.

● Teachers are leaving Douglas County schools, often for higher-paying districts that offer teachers greater respect. Poor teacher recruitment and retention is a serious problem affecting our children. Douglas County Schools should also help unite the community to approve the property tax, or mile, rate increase (MLO), giving the community a chance to voice their support for public education in the school district. Currently, the divisive rhetoric of our leaders only serves to harm the chances of passing this much-needed raise.

● End the damaging rhetoric from some district leaders and others who attack educators and students who work towards a safe and inclusive classroom. This is already leading to intimidating tactics, such as posting photos of classroom signs online that read “All students are welcome here” – as if it’s a terrible thing for a teacher to let students and families know that all children are welcome in the classroom. Politically tinged divisive actions harm the social and emotional health of children, which can also affect student performance. We need to make sure children want to come to school and love learning, and that they feel safe and welcome. It requires intentional steps to make every student feel respected, safe, and ready to learn. The current equity policy was intended to achieve this and should not be diluted. District leaders should be responsible for creating an inclusive and professional environment.

All stakeholders in Douglas County Schools must come together for the sake of educational outcomes and the future of our children. The children are at a critical juncture in their upbringing – especially since it has been terribly disrupted over the past two years during the pandemic. The council and district are also at a critical juncture as they change direction and face major decisions.

There have been seven special school board meetings in three months, and none of them focused on student needs or the curriculum. Let’s get back on track and work to give our children and our community great public schools. Let’s laser focus on areas that will drive high student performance and ignore other distractions. It could be a game changer for everyone.

Kevin DiPasquale is president of the Douglas County Federation, the local teachers’ union.

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