COMMENTARY: Time to put the ‘public’ in public schools

We dedicate the second (full) week of November to the celebration of American Education Week, a time to advocate once again for the best education opportunities for every child in our state. This year’s theme is “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility.” On the 95th anniversary of American Education Week, it is important for all of us to recognize that a great public education is a basic right — and our individual and collective responsibility.

The National Education Association, in partnership with the American Legion, established American Education week in 1921. The original mission statement remains relevant today: An educational week … observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs.

Public schools have been, and will continue to be, the backbone of America’s future and the success of our society. Together, we must advocate for the best possible education for every child in our state. The basic right to a quality education is a responsibility undertaken by educators, families, community members, elected officials, and policy makers throughout Delaware and across the United States. It is essential that we can ensure that every student, regardless of ZIP Code, has the tools, time, resources and sustained support necessary for each to learn.

The time has come to turn down the rhetoric of blame and shame that has posed as education analysis and planning. Our children and our schools deserve the kinds of support necessary to properly and appropriately educate a new generation. Every one of our 220 public schools needs targeted and sustainable funding, well-qualified personnel, excellent materials for teaching and learning, and involvement from families and the wider school community to do the job our state Constitution says our schools should be doing. Ultimately, this means that we provide the same opportunities and programs that students in top schools receive to all students, regardless of economic status or school location.

Frederika Jenner

Frederika Jenner

Educators, families, and communities recognize the negative effects that ill-advised and poorly implemented education policies have had on kids and classrooms. Together, we need to address more than just academic issues. Students and educators deserve schools that are safe, secure, and supportive. It is essential that we work together so as to support public education. Many of our students need basic health and specialized services in order to be prepared to learn. Our combined engagement in such efforts can strengthen student learning, increase family involvement, and help provide safer and healthier communities.

Every Student Succeeds Act and Community Involvement

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been the main federal law governing public education. ESEA was originally passed in 1965 and was reauthorized in 2002 as No Child Left Behind. The recent reauthorization of the law is known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA gives states greater flexibility, and provides for more state and local control over accountability processes.

This is the perfect time for educators, school families, and community members to take a stand, to express what they believe is important for Delaware’s system of public education and to work together to help ensure that all students have equitable access to a high-quality education.

I understand that getting the community involved in the education-equity conversation isn’t enough. We need to make sure that we are working just as hard inside our schools to stand strong for student success.

Educator and School Involvement

A school cannot be run with teachers alone; the term “educator” here includes all of the folks who provide services for Delaware’s students: para-educators, secretaries, custodians, food service workers, transportation workers, teachers, specialists, and administrators. These people deserve our thanks for the work they do to keep our children engaged, warm, safe, and nourished during the day. Their efforts and expertise contribute to the success of our students and schools.

Educators are deeply committed to the success of every child. DSEA members believe that we need to educate the whole child. We hold ourselves accountable for the success of our students and schools. We fight for school priorities needed to build a foundation for learning. We work to ensure every student has a qualified, caring, and committed teacher in his/her classroom. We advocate for more relevant training for educators, for adequate support and mentoring for new teachers entering the profession, and for reliable evaluation systems.

Together, we can make a difference in Delaware’s public schools. Join us in taking a stand for equal education rights and a bright future for every student in Delaware.

Let’s take this week to refocus attention on our schools and recommit to making all of them the stalwarts of our democratic foundation that they were created to be. Volunteer at your local public school. Attend local school board meetings. If you’re a parent or guardian, join your local PTA or parent organization. Visit your child’s classroom to learn how you can work together partner with the educators in your child’s school. Let’s put the “public” back in our public schools. Regardless of political ideology, our communities, our children, and our nation need our public schools more than ever.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Frederika Jenner is the president of the Delaware State Education Association.

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