Ways of seeing: Schools can flourish with the right plan
It’s Thursday morning on the farm. As I write this, the children at Wren’s Nest Preschool are singing and laughing as they slide down the snow covered hills. A spirit of hopefulness fills the air and my heart once again. And so we turn now to the gift of focusing on how to make things better for those who are suffering, instead of worrying what horrible thing will happen next.
For the past year or so, many of us have been trying to figure out ways to turn the huge financial challenges facing our school districts into an opportunity to do things differently: with greater benefit for our children, reduced stress for their parents, genuine support for our teachers, and economic renewal for our towns and villages.
Here is a summary of four easy pieces that we believe could help:
• Advocate strongly that all people in Vermont have health care coverage that is not dependent on their employers. This would remove one of the largest driving factors in escalating school budgets: Health insurance costs. And it would benefit all families and businesses.
• Encourage and allow pre-school parity: We have an excellent public/private partnership already in place that covers 10 hours a week of Pre-K, at no cost to parents. We can build on this base so that children have access to full day, full school-year care in the settings their parents choose. This will be good for children. In addition it will reduce stress on families by dramatically dropping their out-of-pocket expenses; stabilize the fragile early care and learning sector by keeping highly skilled teachers in the field; and promote the local economy by assuring businesses that employees have access to high quality care.
• Invest in the very young. Economist James Heckman says these are the investments with the greatest rate of return. The documented reductions in the need for special services will be another benefit to our struggling school districts. By promoting stronger brain development and a more solid base of social/emotional skills, our children will have a brighter start on life. We can create a public private partnership that draws on the health, education, and economic development sectors to make this happen.
• Encourage and allow towns, school districts, and regional planning groups to work and budget together. This could provide the basis for converting our small town schools into community care and learning centers that will serve many ages and people. Groups in many districts are already doing this kind of innovative thinking. There is no reason Addison County could not be the leader.
I will explore how to accomplish each of these goals in future columns. In the meantime, if you’d like to contribute your wisdom and energy, please let me know.
Cheryl Mitchell is president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work. She can be reached at [email protected]
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