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What makes for good schools?

by Alex Miller

The start of school this week brings with it all those familiar sights, sounds and, yes, smells. Along with the groaning kids, relieved parents and grumpy taxpayers who never believe all the money is being spent wisely come the harried teachers and school officials trying to make it all work.

It’s not an easy job by any means. I’ve never been a teacher, but I have addressed plenty of classrooms over the years on the topic of media, and I always walk away with a new-found respect for what it must take to be a good – never mind great – teacher. Even so, I still hope my kids (and I have three in Summit schools; two in high school and one at Frisco Elementary) encounter only the good and great ones.

The start of the school year often gives rise to criticism of our school district, and our columnist Morgan Liddick kicked that off Tuesday with a column expressing disappointment in the test scores achieved by our local kids. The superintendent called the paper to question the timing of the column (not its factual accuracy, near as I can tell), to which I can only ask: What better time is there? As the beneficiary of the most taxpayer dollars in this and most every other county in the U.S., we certainly have a right to scrutinize our public schools, question things like test scores and demand on a regular basis that they do better. I understand how trying it can be to school officials when trying to explain the many reasons for lower-than-hoped-for scores, and I know factors like kids who can’t speak English very well and seemingly unfair benchmarks from various government decrees can muddy the waters. But as any student will tell you, offering explanations for a low test score only gets you so far: A ‘C’ is still a ‘C.’

There is, however, a lot more to a person (and a school district) than test scores. My overall sense of Summit schools is that they range from fair to good, with some areas of very good (mostly in the elementary schools). One son is in the International Baccalaureate program at the high school, which seems to afford some additional opportunity at the same time we aren’t always clear on what, exactly, the overall value of IB is. Our kids generally like their teachers, and school facilities seem to be more than adequate.

Like any parent, I have my quibbles as well: I believe communication from teachers and school administration can be spare, which seems odd in this era of e-mail and websites. I’m often surprised the school and district websites aren’t better (why not have high school students with web aptitude do them as part of a class?). As a journalist, I’ve been disappointed in the lack of attention to media studies in an era where media is so much a part of our lives, and as a parent I still believe our schools fail kids who graduate from high school knowing trigonometry but not basic personal finance and budgeting. Again, though, I know there are formulas for what classes must be taken for whatever reason — and it doesn’t always make sense.

But whatever our schools do, it’s almost always made better by community and parent involvement. Knowing what’s going on, talking to our children about their classes and teachers, volunteering as we’re able and holding the administration to account is part of our obligation as a community. Students, be they kindergartners or high school seniors, also need to hold ownership in their education, and as parents we need to hold them accountable for their performance.

It takes a village, as a certain First Lady once wrote. The administration should welcome feedback, good or bad, and I look forward to regular missives from teachers and school officials as we continue to cover the schools closely here at the paper.

Editor Alex Miller can be reached at amiller@summitdaily.com or (970) 668-4618.


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