– Don Haddad, Ed.D., is superintendent of St. Vrain Valley schools.
One of the most important institutions in our society is public education. Of the approximately 55 million K-12 aged children in the United States, it is estimated that 90 percent are enrolled in public schools. Second only to parenting, the longstanding institution of public education will have the greatest influence on America’s future.
In Colorado, we’ve experienced an ongoing discussion around the adequacy of resources for our public schools with mixed results. Before engaging in this conversation, however, I believe we must first articulate a clear and purposeful vision for public education in our state, starting with an in-depth discussion of why public education is so critically important.
For decades, there has been a steady drumbeat of negativity tearing down our public schools and criticizing the professionals who are dedicated to the well-being and success of our children. Instead of celebrating the many outstanding achievements of our public schools, naysayers have consistently portrayed our environment as riddled with “failing schools” and “ineffective teachers.” This narrative couldn’t be further from the truth. These criticisms dishonor the incredible work being done by outstanding teachers and staff in public schools every day.
As superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley Schools, I have seen first-hand how well-organized and resourced public schools can have a profound impact on an entire community. When I visit with local chambers of commerce, we acknowledge that our school system is the largest employer in our area and the bedrock for developing future leaders in business and private enterprise. With realtors, we reinforce the nexus between good public schools and high property values. With local nonprofits, law enforcement agencies and others, we partner to ensure students are constructively engaged in their learning, have hope for their future and see promising pathways for their education. Strong public schools are the catalyst driving the success of our local communities, as well as our state and nation.
The conversation around funding for our schools should be accompanied by a clear, articulate vision in alignment with the fundamentals of an excellent education. The following should constitute the foundation, not the ceiling, in every school district in Colorado:
- every student should be able to attend a high-quality, safe school facility, conducive to optimal learning and educational success; • every student should have the opportunity to attend a highquality preschool and full-day kindergarten; • every student should have dedicated and highly-qualified teachers and staff with the time to strategically prepare their lesson plans and to collaborate with their peers;
- every student should have opportunities to experience a full schedule of rigorous classes and strong pathways toward the future with options such as Advanced Placement courses, college concurrent enrollment classes, International Baccalaureate programs, instructional focus academies and various career and technical pathways;
- every student should have access to robust co-curricular activities such as theater, dance, music, art, athletics and more;
- every student should be equipped with cutting-edge, 21stcentury technology designed to enhance and broaden their learning and provide excellent opportunities for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship; and
- most importantly, every student should feel physically and emotionally safe at school, supported by counselors, nurses, mental health professionals and school resource officers.
Some people may say it is impossible to provide these supports across Colorado’s 178 independent school districts without additional resources. Perhaps, however, in order to achieve this foundation, we must first engage our policymakers, community leaders, friends, neighbors, parents and communities, in a constructive, focused conversation around our values and the collective benefit of strong public schools. Our educators and our schools provide an immeasurable service to our country and should be celebrated and revered for their place in society. The amazing things they do with and for our children every day continue to advance them as individuals and our country as a whole.
Somewhere in the national debate, we have lost sight of the fact that thousands of students graduate from public schools every year and are emerging to be the leaders and agents of change. From the doctors, to first responders, to the CEOs leading innovation, to our military, to the millions of hardworking Americans who elevate our manufacturing, trade and service industries, public education is one of the greatest success stories in American history.
We must reawaken the public consciousness about the importance of public education, and by so doing, reignite the promise of future generations.