John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” He obviously had Greenwich in mind. As we welcome our new Superintendent, Dr. Jill Gildea, and prepare to elect four members of the Board of Education on November 7th, we should look back at what has been accomplished in the past few years with a sense of pride and look forward to the future with optimism. We have a good school system, and we are in the process of making it a great one.
What are we doing in the General Assembly to reach the goal of a quality education for Connecticut students? For starters, we are trying very hard to make sure that all 169 cities and towns receive a fair share of education aid. The current Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula doesn’t add up. There should be more equitable distribution, and special education mandates should be paid for by the convening authority, usually the federal government. We hope to craft a new funding mechanism that takes into consideration property taxes and success rates – rewarding academically achieving schools and returning more money to the districts where the taxes were collected.
Some good news: Greenwich is ahead of the curve in school construction reimbursement. We began two decades ago to build needed classroom and school additions and have received reimbursement for projects at Hamilton Avenue and Glenville Schools and the Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center. We are currently in the pipeline for school construction dollars for New Lebanon School.
However, merely throwing money at schools is not the solution. Accountability is necessary … as is a culture of parental involvement in the learning process. I have long supported early English and universal school readiness programs for three-and four-year-olds. Creativity is needed to address teacher certification, retirement, housing and transportation. We also need to confront the complex societal problems that our public schools reflect.
A recent child care study put the situation in perspective: “Being an educator isn’t what it used to be. Huck Finn is a delinquent. Tom Sawyer isn’t working up to capacity. Heidi is in foster care. Jim Hawkins is too young to get working papers … and who would allow Alice to sit and dream away an unscheduled summer afternoon?”
It’s not only sufficient to know the curriculum material but also necessary to understand how to convey that information to students with vastly unique and varied backgrounds. That’s where our educational dollars are best spent and why we need to continue to empower local school boards to set standards and determine what best meets the needs of their communities.
Education is a top priority for our town and our state. We have a lot to do, and, together, we can – and we will — get it done.