In the coming weeks I would like to dig a little deeper and write a few posts regarding what I believe to be the key issues facing the Northgate School District. It is possible that in the November election, voters may have different choices when it comes to electing Northgate’s next school directors* and I think that it is imperative that those voters be aware of the issues and know where the candidates stand on those issues. Below are six topics that I believe are extremely important and have stood out to me in the last five months.
Financially times are tough for Northgate, especially with the state cuts to public education funding and the ~$700K bond payment that Northgate is stuck with for the next several years. What is the current administration doing to try and solve these issues and what are some of the ideas of the school board candidates? As I wrote recently, school board member Gary Paladin indicated that taxes are likely to be raised in the near future.
Education and the PA Common Core Standards
Governor Corbett has ordered a delay in implementing the PA Common Core Standards. Northgate is currently changing its curriculum to align with those standards. How will this affect our students and our teachers? What, if any, financial consequences could this have? Additionally, how can we focus on giving students a quality education and avoid teaching solely to take tests. With the reduction in teachers and course offerings, how are we going to engage students and challenge them academically?
Special needs students cost the school district more money than typically developing students. Because of this, I fear that they will be given the minimum support required by law instead of what they need to grow and succeed. We have already seen this by the attempt of the current superintendent and school board to furlough 10 teacher aides, only to later reduce that number when they realized that the IEPs of several students required that they have aides in the classroom. How are larger class sizes and less course offerings going to affect students with special needs and what can we do to accommodate them?
Because of the era in which we live, school safety is vitally important. Those who work in our schools or make policies that affect our schools should always be thinking about safety. What, if any, safety issues need addressed? Do the school board candidates have any ideas on what can be done to improve school safety?
Communication and Transparency
I have seen a noticeable improvement in the communication between the school board and the general public over the last five months. The administration has been more responsive to questions and concerns, and at times has provided meaningful background information to those in attendance at school board meetings when voting on various proposals or talking about specific issues. Of course, like most things, there is always room for improvement. I am still irritated that those behind the teacher furloughs can’t give a reasonable explanation at how they settled on their final number of 23 teachers. I also think there are other ways we can improve communication in our district and I hope the communication committee will continue to address those issues.
Leaders and Followers
Specifically looking at the members of school board, we need leaders not followers. I believe that there are many people on our school board that care deeply about the students, care deeply about education and work tirelessly to make Northgate a great school district. I also feel that there are members on the board who will easily follow others rather than ask questions and work to form their own opinions. We desperately need more of the former. While this is easy to say, it is difficult to achieve because of course everyone cares and wants Northgate to succeed. However, how many people in jail believe they are innocent? How many employees believe that they are underpaid? Ok, maybe those are silly questions but the fact is many people will say they want to make a difference and believe that they will but who will actually put in the work to make that happen? My point is, we NEED leaders who are informed, who are not afraid to ask questions, who are not afraid to speak up, and who are willing and eager to put in the hard work to continue to make Northgate a better district. I think there are such individuals already on school board, but we could use a lot more.
*The unofficial results from the recent primary election report that the candidates for school board on the Republican ballot will be Lisa Saylor, Amy Joy Robinson, Dan Klicker and Jennifer McWilliams. Lisa, Amy and Jennifer will also appear on the Democratic ballot however there was a tie between myself and Dan Klicker. One of us will be chosen (I believe by coin flip) to appear on the Democratic ballot. There is also the chance for independent candidates as well as write ins (options that I may pursue if I lose the coin flip).