Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Killingly Call To Action

I am sickened. Not, this time, by Staphylococcus , rotavirus or the flu. Not by the cold that's going around or the expired milk in the fridge. What has been making my stomach turn is the nauseating lack of support for education evident in every referendum, budget vote and public meeting since I moved here almost three years ago. Our public high school was put on academic probation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2004 and a total loss of accreditation is looming with the start of the new year.

The lack of support for education is not coming from inside the schools. There, people care. I have heard countless positive stories about teachers and administrators who put priority number one on shaping the amorphous minds of children into thinking, feeling vessels of productivity. They want kids in this town to have every resource possible. They want them to feel part of a community that lives for their future. Inside each elementary, middle and high school, our kids know they count.

A loss of accreditation doesn't change that. What it represents is a failure within the greater community, where the most vocal taxpayers espouse priorities that do not reflect a forward thinking and sympathetic mindset.

I've been to town council meetings where the education budget was debated inside an auditorium filled almost entirely with retirees. They slam the Board of Education. They slam the teachers. They slam custodians and bus drivers. They say they are not slamming children, but the children take the hit.

High School principal Mary Christian was quoted on the front page of today's Norwich Bulletin as saying that accreditation is a matter of credibility. "Accreditation is a stamp of approval that shows the community is providing support and stability. It shows we are working on programs and curriculum," she said.

When the high school was put on a warning list in 1998, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges presented the town with a list of 25 concerns to be addressed, most of which revolved around a crowded and antiquated building. In 2004, the high school was put on probation. According to the Bulletin, "little change" or "no change" is the status of most of those 25 bullet points to date.

Time and time again, referenda have taken place on the building of a new school. Each vote is met with a campaign by the "Citizens for Limited Taxation" to veto progress. A vote on the site for the new school that finally passed in 2005 was overturned this year. Though state subsidies for construction ensure that the costs of building a new school are actually less than those entailed in updating the existing structure, the residents most likely to go to the voting booth each time it's rolled out continue to stand by the notion that fiscal responsibility and responsibility to our children are mutually exclusive concepts.

I called the Office of the Superintendent today to ask how I can most effectively stand up for the importance of education in this town, especially as it relates to the high school. Unfortunately, I discovered that there are no organized support mechanisms beyond the obvious civic opportunties presented at town council, Board of Education, and various committee meetings.

It seems that the successful grass roots advocacy of the Citizens for Limited Taxation remains largely unchallenged. If we, as supporters of education, can learn anything from their efforts, it's that the passion and energy of a few motivated people truly CAN make a difference.

Margaret Mead, a student of anthropology and human nature, said it famously: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

But without action, these are only words. Please pass this message on to anyone you know with a vested interest in Killingly's future. Leave a comment with your ideas about how we can prove to the children that their education is one of our highest priorities. If you do not live here, I welcome any stories you may be able to share about successful advocacy in your city or town.

As always, I can be reached via email at ecregan@ct.metrocast.net.

9 comments:

Whirlwind said...

ECR, I am right there with you!

Now that I work inside the schools, I can't even begin to tell you how many teachers there spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms, just to make it a great place to be and to learn. Well it is not required, many of them go above and beyond with hopes of shaping the young minds entrusted to them.

Are there any groups opposing the CfLT(boy I feel dumb even asking that).

toyfoto said...

I think this problem is rampant in large numbers of "aging" communities. I'd like to know exactly what IS going on with education funding. We live in a relatively well-off school district and teachers are buying their own supplies and parents are fundraising for all kinds of things that seem once was funded.

It is my understanding that we spend a lot more money per pupil that other countries (which I really think is a red herring, because other countries don't tend to educated EVERYONE the way we do in the US, but I digress) and yet students' math and science apptitude is deplorable. When we start talking about No Child Left Behind, which I really believe is just a Republican (read Bush Administration) plan to discredit Public Schools and make the voucher system more palatable to the electorate, I really think there's really a rough road ahead.

Couple that with voters seeing only the short game, and not caring about the future, and I'd swear our priorities are all messed up.

Mrs. Chicky said...

*clapping*

I was just having a similar conversation with my aunt (who still lives in my hometown) about this very subject. Too much to get into here but I wanted to let you know how much this post spoke to me. Well done.

*clapping some more*

venessa said...

Sing it, sister!

I too would like to know where the hell all of the money goes.

My city has sold a few of the old school buildings to fund new ones. They were bought by real estate developers (condos), a day care, some high tech manufacturing company, and a community org.

jen said...

go, woman. i'll pass it along, and yes, agree 100%

Binkytown said...

I'm afraid I don't have any good suggestions for you, which is a fortunate thing. I live in a very productive and well cared for school district but I applaud your moxy. It only takes one person to get things moving..

Anonymous said...

I wish I had something to add, but we feared for my husband's job every year in the urban district he taught in. We pent hundreds of dollars on instrument repairs, Kleenex and other classroom items.

All I can say is "Go Binky, go Binky!" If I think of anything I'll get back to you.

hklupien said...

I have been a Member of the Killingly Board of Education for the past 16 years, all of which time budgets were fought by a determined group.
At first it was one man, Donald Bernier, who lead the group of disgruntled. When he moved to Brooklyn a few years ago, the Citizens Against Taxation (sic) came into being.
And, yes, it was lead by one woman.
I applaud your concern for our children.
Now we need to see, not only that the new high school gets built, but that it isn't an industrial "box", which the Building Committee is intent on building.
During the Depression and WWII, theaters were built to resemble palaces. Why? Because the time someone whose life was really the pits could dream for a few hours that they were glamorous and "in the money".
If you knew how many of our children come from homes where there is little to eat; often don't have a winter coat; some are physically or sexually abused....
Well, let me tell you that school is the safest place they'll be all day. If that school could be light and bright and "Kid centered" it could give them a chance to dream; to reach for the educational stars.
I am doing all I can from my position but there is a great need for the Committee you propose.
And, like the woman who began Mothers against Drunk Drivers who managed, not only to get laws changed, but our attitude toward drinking. (When was the last time you heard a joke about a drunk?)
It seems you have the will and dynamism to do this. I applaud yur efforts. if I can help, please contact me.

melissa1975@comcast.net said...

Awareness is the first step, so thanks for the "call to action".

As mentioned there are many retirees in the area with concerns outside of education...also MOST citizens do not concern themselves with the business of politics until it DIRECTLY EFFECTS THEM.

I would suggest highlighting the reasons supporting Education is better for the community as a whole, (not just the students)

A well regarded school is a draw for new families, therefore will increase the tax base...
what about local development? small business?...communities that support education and local commerce are more likely to keep youth in the area as well as increase local revenue.

What other reasons are there...?

Who can you get in your corner:
-PTA's?
-local business Associations?
-What about larger companies like Frito Lay, International Paper, the power plant?
- Area hospitals and their "friends" (Someone is responsible for all the free books the Dr's offices give out!)
-What about other non profits or moms groups in the area?

Spread the word, why you care, Give reasons the ENTIRE community benefits.

Most of these organizations have members living and working in your community. How will changes to funding of the Killingly school system impact their production? hiring? How can community involvement be a benefit to them?!

Find out and then give them the opportunity to support Education a better future for all!

Best of luck and remember, "you catch more flies with honey"...so keep positive!

Former Dayville resident,
Melissa K