Serving ALL STUDENTS with excellence: Emphasis Matters

A version of this was published by Treasure Coast Newspapers (TCPALM) 
Oct. 29, 2015

http://www.tcpalm.com/opinion/guest-columns/shawn-frost-shortchanging-charter-schools-doesnt-jibe-with-indian-river-school-districts-mission-233-338473562.html

 F.R.O.S.T. plan to restore our education system to greatness this falls under "O" Opportunity through choice. 

The mission statement of the School District of Indian River County is “To Serve All Students with Excellence.”  And it is time to end the discriminatory capital funding practices and do just that.

 In communications class, there’s an exercise where students place added emphasis on each word in a sentence and explore how the change in emphasis changes the meaning.  That sentence is usually something like “I didn’t say you are a dumb jerk”. So, with emphasis on the “I” the meaning is opened to the possibility that somebody said it but it wasn’t the speaker. Emphasizing the “didn’t” is an outright denial. Placing emphasis on “say” opens it up to the possibility of all other forms of communication being used to declare someone a dumb jerk, and on and on. The point being emphasis matters. It is no different in organizational success and, in particular, in student success.

Now, let’s revisit SDIRC’s mission statement. The word “to” is just there for style, so let’s jump right to “SERVE”. As elected or appointed (hired) leaders, our role is to SERVE the needs of those who elect us and pay our salaries. This means subjugating our own prejudices and beliefs for the benefit of those in our care. Seeing students as equal is just that.

Next we should place the emphasis on “ALL” in “To Serve ALL…” This is where we can do better. We say “ALL” but then Board Members refer to students in district run neighborhood schools as “our students” and claim that the district only has enough money for “our students”, and cannot share capital funds with public charter students.  They are ALL our students.

 

 

This brings us to the word “STUDENTS”. I think it’s time we operationally define this, because it seems to mean different things to different staff members and school board members. That’s what causes the issue with “ALL”. Is a student only a student if they are in a classroom controlled by the school district? Is that the measure, real estate holdings? Are they only a student if they are in a classroom with a union teacher in charge (special interests buy school board seats leading to this definition)? How student-y is student enough? Since many don’t think we owe it to “students” in public charter schools to provide equal service, funding, and protection, perhaps we should reconsider other choice programs. Are students in magnet schools like Osceola “students”? What about kids taking an extra class or two on Florida Virtual School? Should we treat them as students? The answer is pretty simple : A human being with a pulse attending public school within the district. Children in public charter schools- yes, contrary to all the rhetoric and misinformation, 100% of children in charter schools are attending PUBLIC SCHOOLS. They are students too, and deserve equal treatment.

“Excellence” requires investment, commitment and collaboration. It cannot come from a system that collects funds from taxpayers and then CHOOSES not to distribute them equally, simply because, as one board member puts it, “we aren’t required to by law”. The law is hardly the apex of ethical behavior;  just because we can discriminate legally doesn’t mean we should. Apartheid was law. Slavery was law. Denying women the right to vote was law. Law has been used to subjugate the weak and voiceless to preserve the status quo of those in power for too long. It’s time to embrace excellence and that means treating ALL STUDENTS fairly and equitably with all education funding. Is a system leading with excellence when it allows one student to receive $386 in capital funding while another receives a whopping $1,330? No, it isn’t.

The public charter schools in SDIRC are all high performing and most perform far better than other schools in the district. We cannot starve excellence to preserve the status quo because we always have and can. You don’t reward mediocrity while demanding excellence. I voted twice against our budget because I believe in equality and cannot knowingly endorse a budget that legally, but unethically, perpetuates discrimination against a minority of students only because the majority has the power to. We are better than that. We should do as our mission statement directs, and work “to Serve ALL Students with Excellence”.

Shawn R. Frost is the Vice President of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members and a member of the Indian River County School Board. He developed the F.R.O.S.T. plan to restore America's education system to greatness, found at FROSTplan.com and he can be reached at (772) 584-1454