A recent experience in my school district once again reminded me about what’s worth fighting for in the current education reform debate.  We hear, read, and see accusations of school failure.  I see quite the opposite.  One example of this stems from how a 2002 graduate of Southold Schools came back this year to give back—in a big way.

 

Arriving at school as an 8 year old non-English speaking immigrant from Nicaragua, Pete Castillo now owns a masonry design company.  The 31 year old former student designed and built a $25,000 outdoor amphitheater for the children of Southold.  He donated the cost of materials and labor to the school district.  His generosity and creative genius sparked a learning community to express appreciation in the form of poetry, dance, and song.  Hundreds of students and teachers gathered on a warm May afternoon to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the amphitheater.

 

It was a sincere and vibrant expression of gratitude felt towards this former student who bestowed this novel learning space upon the school community.  The children offered appreciation with heartfelt expressions of the limitless possibilities of future learning opportunities.  Many of the invited guests were brought to tears listening to third grade students explain how they will use the amphitheater.  They said things like, “The magical playscape amphitheater inspires us to …go on a journey of our imagination…unleash our free spirits…wonder and think…become the characters from our books.”

 

I fight against the current assault on our schools because I remain convinced that the promise of a robust public school system is a key to the future success of our nation.  I do not dismiss the challenges faced in many communities throughout the land, but I do reject the prescription to address these challenges.

 

Arthur Camins, Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., correctly points this out in a recent blogpost:

 

“It cannot be repeated often enough: No country that has made significant improvement in its education system has done so through test-based accountability, teacher evaluation systems, charter schools or other school choice schemes. Improvements will only come from a national commitment to the values of equity, democracy, empathy, respect and community responsibility and by providing the funding for solutions based on those values.”

 

I urge parents, educators, as well as thoughtful business and civic leaders, to go beyond the headlines, and slick television commercials that purport failure in our schools across the board.  Join those of us who welcome honest brokers at the table to strive for improvement in our public schools.  That’s something worth fighting for.

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