Author: Only community can save public education

Fewer than 20 percent of U.S. taxpayers have children in public schools, says author Jamie Vollmer—and that shows a need for school leaders to be proactive in reaching out to the community.

Think of it this way: Would you support a presidential candidate you knew nothing about? What does this candidate think about taxes? How is this candidate helping those around him? What does this candidate believe in, and heck, what’s his favorite food? Well, said Jamie Vollmer, a businessman, author, and supporter of public education, wouldn’t people like to know how their local schools worked, too?

Vollmer, president of Vollmer Inc., author of Schools Cannot Do It Alone, and opening keynote speaker at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education, argued that both education leaders and U.S. citizens understand that it’s about educating the whole child and that there needs to be reform.

However, the people’s perception is that reform should come through the firing of school leaders and teachers, because that’s the rhetoric being peddled. Yet, school leaders and teachers know that reform needs to occur by changing an antiquated system that’s still focused on mass rote learning for testing and a one-size-fits-all-approach to learning.

“The ‘Great Conversation’ we need to have has to be between teachers and school staff and the community,” said Vollmer. “I guarantee you that if the community knew what their local school had to teach, support, and perform every day for their students, the community would become their school’s greatest supporter, not their biggest critic—helping to spur the true reform needed for schools rather than hindering it.”

According to Vollmer, fewer than 20 percent of all U.S. taxpayers currently have children in a public school. The rest of the taxpayers either don’t have children, their kids have graduated, or they have kids enrolled in private schools. This large percentage, said Vollmer, feels that issues concerning public schools are “not their problem,” and they either don’t care to help or join the national hate-wagon because that’s all they hear.

“What they don’t know,” explained Vollmer, “is that by supporting your local school, you’re reducing the crime rate and increasing your property value. You’re also decreasing teen pregnancies, therefore lowering insurance rates at the hospital. Self-interest doesn’t always trump altruism, but it’s a good bet every time.”

Vollmer believes the problem is that schools need to make the community more aware of who they are by going out into the community and spreading awareness at the community’s convenience.

One way, he suggested, is by making the community aware of what schools have been asked to add to the curriculum and their daily activities since the 1900s.

“No one really has a good idea of what schools are asked to do,” he said. “The community says ‘teach my kids,’ when what this list is saying is ‘raise my kids.’” A full list of what schools are now asked to do can be found on Vollmer’s website here.

Another good way to communicate is by using your school signs. Instead of simply saying, ‘Have a great summer’ on the billboard, “Tell your community how many carrots you served your students over the year—little facts to get them interested in the day-to-day they may not know about,” he explained.

One school district, said Vollmer, even partnered with local restaurants and diners to get student art printed on their placemats or on their take-out menus. “One really mean school decided to print out an 8th grade math test on a restaurant’s place settings,” he chuckled.

“If you can get community understanding, that will lead to community trust. If you can get your community to trust that you are doing everything you can for their kids, you can get community permission. If you can get the community’s permission to try new reform methods—like teaching students by proficiency and not age, and lengthening the school day—you can get that community support you need to change the system to better help you and your students,” he said.

But in the immediate future, Vollmer described “five S’s” that can help schools right away:

  1. Stop—stop staff from bad-mouthing one another.
  2. Shift—shift attention from the negatives to the positives.
  3. Share—share success stories with the community.
  4. Sustain—sustain your efforts to become more positive and out-reaching.
  5. Start—start doing these things now!

“What superintendents need to know is that their staff is their army, armed with a vast social network and an equal passion for helping their students and schools succeed,” concluded Vollmer. “If we all start that ‘Great Conversation’ today, we can finally get that ‘Great Solution.’”

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Meris Stansbury

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