Why did you choose to send your child to a private school?

The Morgan Hill School Board and its contractor met recently to discuss the search process for their new superintendent. They covered important ground.

I am encouraged by the many focus groups the contractor will conduct, but even more encouraged by the evident focus of the board members on really penetrating the community. Peter Mandel made a great suggestion to make the process accessible to the district’s south San Jose residents by holding meetings at Martin Murphy. Also, they specifically stated they wanted a focus group of parents of alternative schools.

Having the right superintendent is critical to a school district. Involved in school reform efforts in Texas and east San Jose, I saw enthusiastic principals provide support to their teachers to implement new ideas, such as visiting the homes of students, and establishing partnerships with the city to provide after-school programs; simple and inexpensive reforms that significantly increased parental involvement and student performance in low-income schools.

However, when trying to take changes to the district levels, I saw regularly how superintendents were the largest barrier to any innovation. While principals are important to setting – or derailing – the culture for a school’s success, the superintendent is key to improvements across the district.

Usually, a new superintendent sweeps in, makes unilateral decisions to “tighten things up,” and alienates all stakeholders in the process. Everyone winds up angry and unable to work with each other, and then the superintendent leaves town with an expensive buyout of his or her contract. Or, less negatively, the new superintendent is affable, but unremarkable, doing nothing different.

This column is a call to parents of private and alternative school students to participate in this superintendent search process, or if you don’t live in Morgan Hill school boundaries, to send me some information. I know I am not the only parent who chose a private school because I was not convinced the public schools would provide what I need for my children and family.

If you cannot participate in future focus groups, then please contact me. I will ensure the Board and contractor see your input. I would like to hear from you several things: 1) Why did you choose to send your child to a private school rather than public? 2) What does your private school offer that you consider a “best practice” the public schools do not currently use, but from which they could benefit? 3) What changes would need to take place to bring you back to public schools?

If you can, please be specific. “More focus on academics” is laudable, but in what way do you want them to focus on academics that is better than what they did when you considered them? If we keep in mind that any school with any population can succeed (it’s true – I’ve seen it), there’s nothing that can’t be considered. If you wish to remain anonymous, I’ll honor that.

Our towns have one school district. We can look at this process different ways. We can take the “communitarian” approach that dictates that because we are part of the Morgan Hill (or Gilroy) community, and despite where we ourselves send our children to school now, the students in public schools are our friends, our families, our neighbors. What affects them affects us.

The other approach is as taxpayers and citizens who need to hold our public systems accountable.

We pay for these schools through our taxes. Because they do not currently meet the standards for education we want for our children, we pay thousands of after-tax dollars to private organizations to educate our children, or spend thousands of after-tax dollars (and make considerable lifestyle changes) to educate them ourselves. It’s not great fiscal management to pay for a new thing just because something else we already pay for doesn’t work. It’s an extra drain and stress we could do without.

The one way I really hope we don’t take it is “my kids don’t go to public schools, so it’s not my problem.”

Let’s speak up. The school board says it’s open to our input; we’ve been invited. If they don’t hear from us, they are missing a significant, resourceful segment of the community, and we are missing out on a great opportunity to begin to effect the change we’d like to see.

If you are a Gilroy parent of a private or alternative school student, I still want to hear from you. Gilroy School district doesn’t need to wait for a superintendent search to hear from you. I’ll make sure the board members receive it.

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