The latest Community Forum put on by the Board of Trustees had a grand total of three public speakers. The only group in shorter supply was the number of board members.
While the forums have become an excellent way for the public to interact with their elected officials, unless there’s a juicy topic on the agenda (graduation ceremonies, bond dollars, school closures) one can expect sparse attendance. Sadly, this was a night when the community should have been out in full force to proudly celebrate leadership students from Parkway Heights that became finalists in a video campaign against bullying. This was another opportunity to put our schools in the collective spotlight. Where were we?
The days of school bands marching down a packed Grand Avenue to the roaring applause of a proud community are in the distant past. Sure, there are those magical events that bring the community back to our schools -- alumni and families abound at the annual Bell Game. On top of that, South City has dedicated people that volunteer countless hours (and dollars) to keep our schools strong.
But the sad truth remains that schools are no longer at the center of our community life. Attendance at school events has been on a steady decline. The annual honors celebration for graduating seniors at the Municipal Services Building was put on hold. Where are we?
It’s not that people don’t care about schools. Everyone wants our schools to be top-notch and everyone wants the best education for their children. The problem lies in the fact that people today are pulled in so many directions that schools as a community priority has slipped dangerously low on the list.
There’s a glimmer of hope in that fact that schools have been in the news lately -- a lot. Even local Patches have been inundated with articles saluting pending graduates, debating the morality of attending public schools, and conversations of installing field lights. Couple these discussions with the budget crunch in Sacramento and the governor’s proposal to increase revenue to fend off looming cuts to education and you get a local public with schools on the brain. The time is ripe for the community to bring schools back to the front burner and show students that they are our priority.
At the community forum, I encouraged the trustees to reflect on what they had accomplished over the past year. While they were able to point out a couple of successful initiatives, I fear that there is still an overall absence of community focus. In order for South City to continue to be a city that values hard work and community, schools must be at the center of everything that we do. At their best, schools are the ultimate unifying factor, helping to bring communities together.
Now is the time for collective reflection. Do we have a unified vision for our community? What will South City look like in 2017, or 2027? What role do our children play in achieving that vision? More importantly, are we -- through our elected officials -- creating a system that helps our young people become the future of this great city? Where are we going?