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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Forward! Charge!

Public schools have been much maligned on a conceptual level across all media outlets, with ample displays of charts, facts, and figures painting a grim picture of achievement. In addition, there have been public forums with emotionally charged language decrying the efforts of educators to increase the performance of learners.

Public schools have been subjected to harsh budget cuts sweeping across a land dominated by fiscal retrenchment and recession. Thousands of educators have lost their jobs and class sizes have increased dramatically. Resources have virtually dried up in many schools after already slashing programs and practices.

Public schools have been too quick to retreat and sulk away to a darkened corner to hide and wait out the storms with hopes of sunnier days sometime in the future.

That's not a reaction that is constructive or positive. That's why our Board of Education held a "Board Advance" in August 2010 rather than a "Board Retreat." Haven't we retreated enough in public education? Acting defensively and surrendering to reality will not serve our children and their hopes and dreams. We need to stop focusing on "what is" and start planning "what will or can be."

The purpose of our advance was to review the past, examine data, and invent our future. We needed to develop a commitment to look ahead and adopt a proactive perspective, unfettered by the skepticism and defeatism that has plagued school districts that have accepted limitations resulting from the collision of decreased funding and conventional practices. It's time to discover alternatives and seek creative solutions. Maintaining the same direction when confronted by significant changes doesn't bode well.

For example, we face competition from charter schools, private schools, and parochial schools. Anytime we lose a learner who opts to enroll in one of these schools as opposed to attending Heatly, we lose state aid. In addition, we have to pay for transportation and textbooks to private and parochial schools. Beyond that, we pay tuition to charter schools (approximately $14,000 for each learner). That, on top of declining state aid exacerbates our fiscal problems.

What to do? Improve customer service and show staff members how we are all impacted by a loss in enrollment. A loss of revenue means a loss of jobs.Investing in communication, marketing, and relationship management was a start. Expanding the breadth of our curriculum at the high school level was essential to thwart further abandonment by learners leaving for the enriched course selection unavailable in small schools. Supplementing our regular classes with a menu of on-line learning classes exceeding 100 courses proved to be an alluring opportunity. In fact, we were able to cite this feature as a reason one learner decided to remain at Heatly rather than depart for an alternative placement. That single retention allowed us to save an amount of money nearly equal to the cost of the on-line programming. That's an investment, not an expenditure!

There's more to do - perhaps college courses during high school, maybe a school to work internship program. We're moving ahead, looking around corners and peering over horizons. We're not standing still and our strategy isn't "wait and see."

We'll provide periodic updates in this Blog as we chronicle our progress. Until then, we're working on inventing the future, not predicting it.

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