Over the last number of months our schools have been in the news. With the exception of Ward Melville with its' record number of students winning science awards, most of the press about our schools has been about fiscal fraud and mismanagement.
Calling our schools to fiscal accountability is a positive thing. Challenging school leadership to be more attentive to how taxpayers hard earned money is spent is critical to an effective and efficient school district.
Unfortunately, many school communities are experiencing fiscal stress. This school year many school budgets did not pass on the first go round. Significant reductions had to be made to make budgets acceptable to some voters. Some school districts were forced to be on austerity for this school year.
When school communities are forced to embrace austerity, more often than not they cut programs that are vital to the total growth and development of all of our students.
In this day and age, somehow people believe that helping professionals are expendable and that the services they provide are not essential.
If you have worked in education for any length of time, you quickly realize how vital support services are today. Whether your school district is rich or poor, big or small, more and more students come to school with serious emotional problems. Oftentimes these problems are masked and are expressed in ways that become very destructive for the classroom teacher.
Most teachers are committed to their students and want to see them succeed. However, most teachers will confirm that they are not trained mental health professionals. They value having a support team that can help when students are identified as being at risk or at the very least problematic.
Our guidance departments are not adequately staffed to handle the traditional responsibilities of guidance counselors and all of the other issues that are emerging on so many school campuses.
The school social worker, counseling psychologist, nurse teacher and attendance teacher have provided a tremendous lifeline of support to our schools, their staffs and their students.
Unfortunately, when the money is tight, they are the first to go. We should not be reducing their presence, but rather we should be increasing their numbers and expanding the services they provide. Not only are these services life giving, but they are also life saving for a growing number of students who feel like they are on the edge.
The other areas we tend to eliminate or have students "pay as they play" are our support programs and performing arts programs. These programs provide vital lifelines for an entire group of students with very different needs.
Education is a gift. It should be an opportunity that empowers all of our students to grow intellectually, emotionally and humanly. Our schools should provide a forum where all students can grow into their full potential.
Schools should not become wastelands of human potential. Too many high schools are becoming just that. The climates and environments are not inviting, especially to the average student and the student with special needs.
School violence is on the rise. Many school district's "pride surveys" indicate that illegal drug and alcohol use is much more widespread and mainstream than many of us would like to accept.
Twenty-five years ago, drug and alcohol use and experimentation was the behavior of a handful of students who were on the fringe. Now there is not a social group in high school that does not engage in regular drinking and recreational drug use.
When mainstream students are confronted about drinking, their response is, "we don't drink and drive. Our social drinking does not affect our schoolwork, so what's the big deal?"
A growing number of parents have become tolerant of teenage drinking and pot use. The attitude that some well-educated parents convey is "they are going to do it anyway, it is only a phase. I want them to be safe."
Needless to say, that kind of thinking is lethal. First of all, both behaviors are against the law. What are we modeling for our teenagers if we basically say it is okay to break the law as long as you are safe and not being reckless?
Too many schools are silent in this area. They take the position "if it does not happen on campus, it is not our problem."
Our schools should be the heart and soul of our communities. Illegal and potentially lethal behavior should be the concern of every school community. As school communities, we need to challenge our parents to parent and act more responsibly regarding their children's social behaviors.
As schools, we need to hold our children more accountable regarding sports and other extra curricular activities where high school students sometimes engage in destructive decision making around inappropriate behavior.
If the football team participates in a keg party after a football game, that should concern the school and parents alike.
During prom season, school officials should be concerned if prom participants attend stoned and/or under the influence of alcohol. We should not turn a blind eye at events like this.
If students are found in non-compliance regarding a schools tolerance policy, serious consequences should be applied. A student's status or position in the school community should not alter or amend the consequences imposed.
Too many school districts have vague or no policies regarding these issues in their student handbooks. Those districts that have clear guidelines regarding these issues are often uncomfortable enforcing them. Too often when an attempt at enforcement is made, parental resistance really complicates the circumstance.
As parents and schools, we have an obligation to create safe, healthy, life-giving environments on all of our school campuses. We need to have places on campus where at risk students can feel safe.
We need to create places for our "recovering" students to meet when they come back from rehab. We need to possibly offer a special homeroom or maybe have twelve steps meetings available on campus during the school day for these students only.
We have to work harder at thinking outside the box. If our children are our national treasure, then we need to treat them accordingly. Our schools need to protect and empower them.
We need to support our schools!