I am a product of the public school system. I graduated from Point Loma High many moons ago after transferring from another public high school, far, far away. That’s part of being a Navy brat—you get to see the world, two or three years at a time. And you get to try and integrate yourself into the complex social systems that evolve amidst the hormonal surges and angst of being a teenager “forced” to endure public education.
At my old high school it was the “Ivies” (kids that dressed up for school) vs the “Suedos” (kids that had greased back hair & didn’t much care about dressing up). At Point Loma High, neither group existed, but there were “hipsters” and “straights”. I didn’t quite fit in with either group. I was miserable for the first few months.
Fortunately, an alert counselor at Point Loma noticed that I’d tested on the high side with my reading and English language skills and it was decided that I belonged in an “advanced” program. The course was team-taught (I wish I could remember their names!) and a great deal more challenging than anything I’d ever encountered along my educational path. To make a long story short, if it hadn’t been for a counselor who saw abilities and aptitudes in me (that I was certainly unaware of) and a couple of English teachers (who demanded more of me), I would have never connected with the writer inside of me. I might have ended up being a politician, or, worse, a lawyer.
The years flew by and my writing career got sidetracked amid the great need to make a decent living, and I ended up in hospitality management—proving the old saw that English majors always should have a side job working in a restaurant.
In 1996 my wife and I were blessed with the arrival of a daughter. It took a little while, but I learned to re-orient my priorities. Getting her a good education would turn out to be one of those priorities. It wasn’t so easy.
In 2000 we moved to the US Virgin Islands, as I accepted a senior management position with a resort hotel, and that’s when I began to see just what challenge the “good education part” could be.
There, I got see first hand what a failed public education system looks like. The schools lost their accreditation after years of neglect. The halls of learning too often became no more than breeding grounds for ignorance, crime and wasted lives. The buildings were rat infested and leaked when it rained. An entire generation was been left behind to rot. And it all started with a bunch of self-serving elected officials who couldn’t be bothered to see the importance of public education. Teachers were under-paid—when they were paid– and a new educator in the system could wait for months before seeing their first paycheck. (Eventually, the parents fought back in the Virgin Islands, but it will take years before the damage is undone.)
The damage to the VI public education system had other effects that went way beyond the parents and children whose opportunities were denied. As an employer (100+ employees) it was increasingly difficult for me to hire ‘locals’ who could muster up the basic literacy and social skills needed to make them employable in the hospitality industry. And youth crimes, some of the tragically violent, skyrocketed, making the islands a less desirable tourist destination. Cruise ship visits were cancelled. Flights in the islands were curtailed as visitors heard stories that led them to feel that the VI wasn’t a very safe place to visit. This was a very bad thing in an economy that was centered on tourism.
When the decision was made for my family to re-locate to San Diego—we could no longer afford the cost of private schools—educational opportunities were at the top of the list of ‘must haves’. We looked into the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts and found what we thought was a good educational opportunity.
The economy tanked during our first year here, and there was talk about ending the magnet school programs and many other components of a well rounded public education like sports, music and arts programs, school counselors and school safety personnel. That’s when I started going to School Board meetings, hoping that my presence there (and any insights I might glean along the way) might be helpful in preventing our local schools from making the same disastrous mistakes that I’d seen made in St. Thomas.
What I have learned over the past year is that, although I don’t always agree with their decisions, our local school board has very little real control over what the future of education in San Diego could be like. The funding that should be coming from our State legislature just isn’t there; the State simply doesn’t see education as that big a priority.
There are also people out there lurking in the shadows that actually want public education to fail as part of a bigger agenda.
I have learned that it’s not too late. If we make our voices heard, then funding can be found. The choice that we face is one of paying (less) now or paying more later. For me it’s a no brainer. It’s not too late. But the clock is ticking. I hope that you’ll join with us here at Educate for the Future in fighting for our future. (Crossposted at the EFF Blog)