Open schools for those who really don’t want to learn

Over the past few years, the local push for excellence in our public schools has been front page news. The force which has pushed the longest and with the greatest success in Gilroy has been the Alliance for Academic Excellence, although this group is certainly not alone. There are scores of parents and community members working to fulfill the promise inherent in a great public school education.

The recently published report is in on California public schools, and to the surprise of no one, we are failing miserably.

Maybe now we can stop using the “raising the bar” analogy, because we have now come face to face with the reality that the bar in California is on the ground. We must stop comparing our schools with other schools in California if we are to achieve excellence. Frankly, my idea of excellence is not to aspire to be in the middle of the pack of one of the lowest ranked states in the nation. I don’t want to be the first one on my block to sport a “at least we’re gaining on Mississippi” bumper sticker.

While we are not the only school district in the state which has failed to adopt a rigorous academic program, our failure to do so at the local level can only lead very quickly to grave consequences.

In these tight budget times, the squeeze is on our public schools. The people of Gilroy are expected to support bond measures, the teachers and give generously to our schools through fundraising. And they do. But in return, the people want something back. What they want back most is results.

The results they want are clean safe buildings, qualified teachers in the classroom, high expectations for students, a rich and varied curriculum and high quality instructional materials.

If these results are not forthcoming in a timely manner, the people will want out. The people who pay the lion’s share of taxes locally will opt to remove themselves from a system that is failing to hold up its end of the public education bargain. As these people flee a broken system, they take their time, money and talent where it is appreciated. The private and charter schools that receive these students naturally hold themselves accountable to the parents. Families that leave the system also take with them a growing resentment over having to pay for a dream deferred.

At both the local and the state level, we are heading down a path toward the ultimate fork in the road.

We must stop and examine which way we will go, because there can be no backtracking. One path is state-sanctioned and we are being urged to take this road. I realize that the standards are dangling from the trees on that well-worn path. I realize that the panacea of proficiency looks very appealing to some folks. But that path can only lead to us “skyrocketing” up to 44th in the nation in the next few years. That path is a circle – a road to nowhere.

Given the latest statistics on the state of education in California, I suggest we take that road less traveled. For those who are unwilling to venture on that path, let us leave an alternative route.

GUSD continues to support the El Portal program, even given the undeniable fact that this school has been failing to prepare students for college. Let Gilroy High be our college prep school and El Portal be our pseudo-college prep school.

Two years ago, I would have said close El Portal down. Now I think they should expand the program. Lest anyone think I’m kidding, check out the El Portal facts for yourself at http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/browse_school/ca/12069/. Open a couple of non-academic academies. Let’s give families who don’t really give a damn the chance to enroll in elementary schools which don’t place demands like homework or discipline on their children. Have an alternative middle school program for kids whose parents throw up their hands and say “I just can’t get them to go to school.” Accommodate the needs of all.

At the end of the day, we must allow Gilroy students to take the less-worn path, because it is the right thing to do.

It is not fair to force students who yearn for a challenge to trudge along in mediocrity. Each year, a few more students in search of excellence are compelled to look for it outside the public system, adding yet another chapter to our own little series of unfortunate events.

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