Opinion | Bruce Butler: The state of Summit’s schools

Last week’s Summit Daily News story about Summit Schools’ third-to-eight grade test scores improving from abysmal to dire reminded me of a time when I performed poorly on a test in school, and I used the excuse with my parents that “everybody else did poorly too.”  My parents grounded me until my grades improved in that class.

I believe most residents and even second-home owners, whether they have kids in school or not, want to see the Summit County Schools perform well. Getting kids out of COVID-19-era masks and back into the classroom is a good thing and probably accounts for the small improvement. Other challenges, like the steady influx and egress of non-English speaking students are certainly major test score obstacles to overcome — especially because the school system may only have some of these students for a short period of time, so it is understandably difficult to implement a system that demonstrates real improvement.

There is a school board election coming up this November. There are more candidates than spots, so it will be a contested election. In the last election, the status quo candidates prevailed and very little has changed, except for another superintendent. I have said many times that it is difficult to sit in the big chairs at the front of the room, and perhaps no governing board is more difficult to serve on than a school board. The purpose of this column is not to vet candidates but to start the dialogue regarding the campaign.

My daughter is out of Summit Schools now, but lack of transparency was a source of frustration. With almost all the instructional materials online now, it should be easy for parents, and anybody else who is interested, to view the instructional materials that are being presented in the classroom. I understand progress has been made in this area, but for me “transparency” goes beyond parental access to the curriculum. It requires an overhaul of the “language” of education.

When my wife and I attended parent-teacher nights, it reminded me of a speed dating show. There are 10 to 15 people in the room, the round is 10 minutes long and there are so many “educratic” buzzwords and acronyms that most parents don’t know enough to know what they should be asking. Using language that parents do not understand is a subtle way of disenfranchising parents from their children’s education and progress. Do you know the difference between a “rubric” and a “metric?” For all I know, these terms may be passe now.

The Summit School District’s budget is heading toward a fiscal cliff. The standard procedure in the past has been to run another tax increase out to the public to cover the shortfall. If past is prologue, Summit County taxpayers bail the schools out every time, but, with a huge property tax increase coming in 2024, local attitudes toward tax increases may change. I want to see school board members treat public funds like it was their own money. Do we really need all the counselors, administrators, and consultants who never set foot in a classroom? Could the school board work with local towns to provide more housing for teachers in lieu of pure pay increases that don’t close the cost-of-living gap anyway? I would like to see more vision and fiscal accountability before considering new tax increases.

Perhaps, most importantly, I want more discussion about quality education and quality results. I realize that good people may have differences about what constitutes quality education, but, for me, it boils down to ensuring graduates have the essential basic skills to enter the workforce and to be productive citizens. This means essential reading, writing, and math skills — above all other considerations. Without these skills, graduates are behind the curve as they move on to higher education or enter the workforce. This is why I am also a major proponent of vocational and technical offerings as early as middle school.

Whether you have kids in school or not, the quality of Summit County’s educational institutions have been in decline for nearly a decade now. Who is elected to the school board matters. Please pay attention to what the candidates are saying and what they stand for and vote this November.

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