ON THE MOUNT MORRIS SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION
My children have attended Mount Morris Central School for 23 years, and quite likely they will continue to attend Mount Morris Central School for the next 18 years.
I have countless times gone up Bonadonna Avenue to games and concerts and conferences, to graduations and kindergarten orientations and open houses.
The faces of children and parents of the last generation are familiar to my heart and my memory, and I have some understanding of the miraculous acquisition of culture and knowledge that takes place in our school and in every school.
I have seen kindergartners grow to adulthood with its successes and failures, and I have seen the struggles and joys of school days for my children and the children of others.
I have seen a succession of administrators and teachers, the parade of personalities who have each been relevant in their day, bringing the blessings of talent and the obstacles of obstinacy.
In short, I have seen the good and the bad in a community and school I love.
And I have trusted the school and its leaders, believing that good people of good conscience were doing their best.
Sadly, that trust was sometimes misplaced.
And it’s time to be honest about that.
There is a school board election tomorrow, and it has turned into something of a referendum. A community vote on whether to continue forward and upward, or to slink back into a swamp of failure and waste.
Because that, sadly, is what our school had become. The experiences of my children show that, any number of state statistics show that, the sad impact on our students’ lives shows that.
Our school turned into a good-old-boys network of happy glad-handing gold bricks. Not all, of course, and maybe not even most. But enough, particularly in positions of power and influence.
Folks who were happily met in the halls and on Main Street were malfeasant on the job. Some sad combination of lazy and dumb, autocratic and self-absorbed.
As my now-20-year-old daughter came through the last two years of high school, it was obvious that neither she nor her classmates were exposed to any true educational program. When you asked administrators about this, and about poor educational standing in general, you heard about poverty and race, the prison and the welfare office, about how our school has a high percentage of people on public assistance and the highest percentage of non-white students outside the city of Rochester.
It was a demographic blame game.
And it was a dodge.
The most meager of achievements was trumpeted and students were lauded like they were gods. As we failed academically, artistically and athletically, the coaches and the teachers and the administrators spoke of our students and our programs as if they were the envy of all.
It was all a lie.
A lie that, as it unraveled, turned out to be about nothing more than big paychecks for a certain few and no-accountability jobs for a fair number of others.
It wasn’t a school, it was a scam.
The simplest administrative responsibilities were blown off. No system for tracking either teacher performance or progress toward tenure. No record keeping of teacher misconduct or sloth. No master schedule of classes or students. Lots of study halls, not that many classes. No real way to track which teachers were doing what when.
Not a system that fell through the cracks, a system that was nothing but cracks.
Miraculously through that, some teachers still taught well, and shaped lives for good. But many others didn’t, and the school fell so far academically as to be put on a state list for potential takeover and to be dead least in most lists of 22 area schools.
Those are the good old days.
But with a stellar interim superintendent and a board that hired an inspired permanent superintendent, and a capable administration with a professional plan, order has begun to be imposed.
In a year when more than three-quarters of our graduating seniors are not, by state standards, prepared for college, all of the kindergartners are reading at grade level. Never before has anything close to an entire class been reading on grade level.
The corner has been turned and the long grind up the hill has been commenced.
And tomorrow a vote will be taken.
There are two slates of candidates. The incumbents – all running for their second term – are part of the board that cleaned house and brought in new administration. The challengers have received the endorsement of those who created and profited lavishly by the old way.
One of the challengers was on the board in the bad old days, and possibly reflecting the spirit of the times he had just a 54-percent attendance at meetings.
The Mount Morris Central School of five or 10 years ago cannot come back. It will be a failure for its students and a target for the state.
But that is the choice.
Old or new, up or down.
Stay the course of dynamic improvement, or slip back into the comfortable old failure.
Yes, my wife is one of the three incumbents hoping to push forward the continued reform. But my concern is not for her, it is for our children.
I have another 18 years in this school.
Unless it slides back into the swamp.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2013