Opinion: Community’s attitude toward education benefits studentsIt is American Education Week. My commemoration is from the perspective of an officer of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, a member of the Mitchell Board of Education, a city official, a citizen and a parent.
By: Neil Putnam, Mitchell Board of Education
It is American Education Week. My commemoration is from the perspective of an officer of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, a member of the Mitchell Board of Education, a city official, a citizen and a parent.
The ASBSD board consists of 18 school-board members representing various regions and school sizes. The board’s diverse views and unique circumstances, along with the members’ professional and personal experiences and the exceptional ASBSD staff, all unite under the premise that all children can learn.
I have also visited with school board members from other states. This spring, I attended a session presented by administrators from Biloxi, Miss. They shared their story of recovery from massive displacement, facilities destroyed, infrastructure limited and few resources. I was impressed by their resilience to hold classes wherever they could, and their focus on student achievement regardless of Hurricane Katrina. Recently, I heard a Michigan school board member describing the severe economic woes in his state; no doubt their schools are impacted. Despite this, he remained a strong advocate and leader for education.
The economy and other factors affect South Dakota’s education system. This spring, the ASBSD board met in a South Dakota community experiencing extreme poverty, rampant student absenteeism and other challenges that most districts can’t fathom. I also visited with school officials that are simply in survival mode. This meeting and the aforementioned situations reinforced my belief that despite fiscal, societal, cultural and political challenges, most believe investing in students and their future is a sacrifice we must make. However, in today’s environment, the challenge is to ensure the investments are appropriately aligned with student achievement, yet still reconciling the many opinions on educational programs.
I was honored to attend a luncheon where a dozen selected districts were honored. The Mitchell Community Scholarship Fund was the only award from South Dakota. Hundreds of impressive applications were submitted. I shared a table with board members from very large districts in Texas and New Jersey. I recall feeling like a small fish in a big pond. During the lunch, my pride in representing Mitchell and South Dakota overtook my timidity. The “big city” folk inquired about South Dakota and the MCSF, and I was obliged to share the details on how our small town rallied with the support of dedicated MCSF volunteers.
The Mitchell School District staff is innovative, committed, skilled and dedicated. Nearly half of the teachers have master’s degrees, our scores consistently exceed state and national averages, and all our schools comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. The district maintains a diverse curriculum, support services, activities, sufficient facilities and technology while simultaneously adjusting to rapid policy changes, fiscal challenges, new techniques and social dynamics.
From a community planning perspective, it’s remarkable that soon all five of our elementary schools will be modernized. Mitchell’s parochial schools also have newer facilities, fine reputations and a strong relationship with the public schools. Community leaders in Focus 2020 examined and provided recommendations for the betterment of all education in Mitchell, including the two thriving post-secondary institutions, Mitchell Technical Institute and Dakota Wesleyan University. Our community stakeholders are willing to collaborate on projects that provide educational enhancements that benefit today’s and tomorrow’s students.
As a citizen, I am proud of a community that offers youth enrichment through the arts, recreational activities, spiritual inspiration and social interactions all complementing their education. This community is welcoming to families and very philanthropic through supporting agencies and generous volunteerism.
Finally and simply, I can’t think of a better place to be a dad.
Since Thanksgiving is approaching, it’s timely to be thankful for a community and country that celebrates American Education Week and the greatness of our youth.
Neil Putnam is a member of the Mitchell Board of Education.
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