It was once said that cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. During a time of difficult budgets, the Humboldt Unified School District has been focused on working with our community partners to forge ahead with “...providing a comprehensive, world-class education for all students.” We also know that our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, namely our community. Our last Board Retreat exemplifies this. This vision-setting meeting included over 100 thought leaders from throughout our community who seek to move HUSD into the knowledge age. This served as an example of how public education continues to be one of the last great unifiers of our communities.
However, we are also experiencing a time when public education is under siege. This is despite the fact that graduation rates are at the highest level in the history of our country (Bradshaw Mountain’s rates far exceed national and state averages), students are taking more rigorous coursework (according to the College Board, the number of students who graduate from high school having taken rigorous AP courses has nearly doubled in the last decade, Bradshaw Mountain has seen an increase of over 400 percent during this same period), and parent satisfaction levels are at the highest levels they have been when looking at their neighborhood school. This is all happening at a time when schools are being asked to meet the needs of the most diverse student body in the history of our country.
There is not a need to make education great again, it is already great. However, there is an urgent need to make it greater. In order to truly move our schools forward, we need the conversations at the state level to change. Too often school reform efforts have focused on the “form” of schools and not on the “ingredients.” During a time of a severe teacher shortage and lack of capital funds, our state leaders remain focused on empowerment scholarship accounts and student tuition organization expansion. We do not need failed reform efforts, but we do need to legitimately change our schools to reflect the needs of the 21st century.
It is time for us to move away from the industrial-age model of education, which served its purpose very well at the time, to the 21st century model of education. This includes a focus on technology, competency-based instruction, and personalized educational opportunities for our students. We need to advance the work of Coyote Springs Elementary and Bradshaw Mountain Middle School’s focus on problem-based learning and we need to encourage student voice during the school day as Granville Elementary and Lake Valley Elementary have. We need our state leaders to have the same conversations that HUSD has been having with our community thought leaders. In short, through a collaborative effort we need to reaffirm our investments in our community schools.
Dan Streeter is superintendent of Humboldt Unified School District.