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Funding, teacher support and high expectations ingredients for better education

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

November 4, 2013

Dear SAISD Staff,

I want to start by saying thank you for all that you do! You simply do not and cannot hear those two words often enough. You need to know how much you are appreciated, especially when we have others who seem to make it their mission to find fault in public schools.

In his book "The Time of Our Lives,” Tom Brokaw shares many stories about Americans who are making a positive difference in today's world. He writes that the U.S. Department of Education estimated back in 2010 that more than 50 million Americans were functionally illiterate, and at least 10 percent of students attending 4-year colleges took remedial reading courses. Further, he states that by the 12th grade, American students are near the bottom of the international scale.

Brokaw makes us ponder our priorities by mentioning that the federal Race to the Top initiative, created to fund innovative reforms in K-12 education, offered states a total of $4.35 billion in grants, which is less than what the Department of Defense spent on the Iraq war in a single month. I say this not to tackle political policy but simply to illustrate the national commitment to fund education. (We all know where we stand at the state level.)

The American Dream has many definitions and interpretations, however, at the heart of realizing the American Dream is education. We must understand and transform education into a sustainable priority in America, not just an election-season priority.

Often, we ask ourselves "What can be done to improve education?" The answer is simple: support teachers. Dropouts, poor attendance, rigor in the classroom, infusion of instructional technology, professional development, training in discipline, parental engagement and co-curricular activities – all require some financial support, and although money alone may not get every school to the next level, it must be part of the overall equation and solution.

All of the aforementioned can be improved with teacher quality. We are finding out more and more that teachers cannot do this alone and should not be solely to blame for underperforming schools. Parents and families must be involved and engaged in their children's educational experience. 

Parents/families and educators should be developing, communicating and working collaboratively to improve public policies that affect our most precious resource, our children. Otherwise, our agenda will be set by self-proclaimed public education "experts" and fault-finders outside of public education, as well as those with deep financial resources and/or political leverage.

About five years after the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” a sobering report on the state of education in the United States, Brokaw was in Seoul, South Korea, covering the Olympic Games for NBC Sports. He anchored the Nightly News at 5:30 a.m. South Korean time, due to the time difference. The first morning, he was surprised to see the school courtyard crowded with uniformed students who were studying by flashlight, waiting for the doors to open at 6:30 a.m. In made him wonder why many American schools were stuck with the same traditions, such as the conventional school day. And, he noted a commitment to education woven into South Korean culture.

Upon further investigation, Brokaw found that South Korean families had high expectations, not only of their children, but of their schools!  When asked what his country’s biggest challenge in education was, former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s response was that the parents were too demanding. Too demanding! All of us, including students, teachers, community members and parents – yes, parents – need to work toward setting higher expectations. This is why our Board of Trustees approved expanding our parent and family liaisons to all schools this year.

Lastly, in the words and philosophy of former Coach Bill Parcells, I want to remind us all of the difference between "routine" and "commitment." Synonyms for routine include usual, normal, ordinary or typical. You see, we come to work and routinely can do our jobs. We may even improve in our routine. But it takes true commitment (fidelity, dedication, loyalty and devotion) to take our craft and our talent to the next level.

Again, thank you for your commitment to our children in SAISD.

Dr. Sylvester Perez

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela


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