On a recent Monday night about 100 people gathered in Troy for a community discussion about their public school system. Billed as a discussion of “cradle to career,” the meeting was coordinated by the David Mathews Center for Civic Life in Montevallo.
The crowd was broken into discussion groups, eight to the table. They talked about topics such as: what are Troy’s greatest education assets, what are its challenges, what would you like to change, what would you like to preserve, etc.
My table had three parents and a grandfather who moved to town to be near his two grandchildren, two long-time teachers and a Troy University student serving as recorder.
It was all very interesting. But I heard nothing I haven’t heard over and over in communities across the state.
Lack of parental support. Teachers having to be surrogate mamas and daddies. The impact of poverty. The need for more after school programs. Lack of transportation for many families. Not enough sense of community both inside and outside of schools. The need for more volunteers. The increasing mental health issues schools are not equipped to handle. The need for more community partnerships.
Never once did anyone say they needed a charter school. No one talked about A-F grades for schools. No one mentioned the Alabama Accountability Act and scholarships for children to go to private schools. No discussion as to whether the state school board should be elected or appointed. Not a soul said we need a new statewide strategic plan for education.
Jan Baxter Lee is now in her 27th year in an elementary classroom. I have asked dozens of longtime teachers what has changed over their career. So I did the same with Jan. And got the same answer I have before. “Lack of respect for teachers from both students and parents,” she said. “When I first started teaching, I could call a parent about an issue with their child and they took action. Today, whatever issue the student is having is the fault of the teacher.”
As I headed north on highway 231 after the meeting I reflected on the evening which once again highlighted the divide between what politicians, and many education bureaucrats, think we need to do to make our schools better and what the real world thinks.
Too many want to build a better mouse trap. Yet, they don’t even know where the dad-gummed mice are.