At a recent Chamber of Commerce event, the business community heard an overview of accomplishments and initiatives involving the St. Joseph School District. The list involved everything from ACT scores to student achievement in history.
Dr. Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of schools, gave a thorough rundown that was interesting at times and predictable at others. Then, during the question-and-answer session, United Way President Kylee Strough asked a good question.
“What can the business community do to support you?”
Van Zyl, probably used to hearing how the business community is concerned about the state of our schools, admitted to being thrown by the question. His answer was interesting and not predictable.
“We’re our own worst enemy,” he said.
Van Zyl doesn’t seem like one to gloss over what needs to be fixed. But he is correct in his assessment that the community, at times, works awfully hard to find what’s wrong with the school district.
This comment should be taken in the spirit in which it was intended. If there’s something that needs to be fixed, then let’s fix it. But don’t oppose the district simply because it’s the district or because of the Dan Colgan and Fred Czerwonka fiasco. This seems to ignore the passion and commitment of those who put in the hard yards every day to educate our children.
A little later at the chamber event, the superintendent made another remark that also proved illuminating: “Our children deserve better.” This might be the antidote to the statement about worst enemies, one that reflects some of the work that needs to be done with facilities, learning outcomes, teacher retention or funding. It shouldn’t be a slap in the face to talk about these things and demand action.
There are things that need to be improved about the St. Joseph School District. Big things. To suggest otherwise would be to accept the status quo at the expense of St. Joseph’s future.
Is it possible to reconcile being our own worst enemies with children deserving something better? It would seem that these two statements need to exist with a certain tension in relation to each other. Go too far one way and you start to accept the unacceptable and enable the average. Go the other way and you start to nitpick every school board decision, even the ones that are small potatoes rather than big-picture things that really make a difference.
In moving forward and pursuing community engagement, those who are passionate about the schools will need to strike a balance, embracing what’s right while taking corrective action on that which needs to be better.