Building good schools means working together

Dr. David Estrop is a retired superintendent of Springfield public schools, and now head of Estrop Consulting LLC.

Recently, I was fortunate to be in attendance when long-time Springfield schools teacher Alice Marshall was honored at her church by the Wallace sisters, all of whom Alice had taught.

Now, some might say Alice has retired, but they would have it wrong. Alice is still teaching. She’s just not getting paid cash for her current work, but she is getting paid in so many other ways. What one of the Wallace sisters said during the ceremony resonated with me. She said that Ms. Marshall never gave up on them. She was persistent. She pushed and pushed to get her students to work harder to achieve more and to overcome fear. She led them, challenged them, encouraged them, and built them to succeed.

That made a lot of sense to me. Instead of telling thousands of students, parents, teachers, administrators, schools, school districts and communities in this state that they are failures, we should be asking: What are we doing to to build our students? What are we doing to challenge our students to succeed? And what are we doing to encourage our students to achieve more and overcome fear? I suspect that most people know that complaining and tearing down have been, and will likely always be, easier than building.

There is an old propaganda technique called “The Big Lie,” which posits that if you say something long enough, loud enough and often enough, people will believe it whether it’s true or not. How many years, how many students, how many schools, and how many communities have been labeled “failures” by the State of Ohio and the U.S. government? Too many.

We have been headed in the wrong direction, for too long, by identifying academic test scores as the only things that count. That’s not true, and if you ask just about anyone outside of Columbus and Washington, D.C., they will tell you it’s not true. It’s about moving young people away from being failures (the easy way out) to being successes by doing the hard work: teaching persistence, self confidence built on real successes in the journey of life, and learning to not give in to fears that we all face.

Our country was not founded on academic skills alone, but rather founded on what people had in their heads and hearts. What can we do as a state and nation to build our youth, our schools and our communities? That’s the real question we need to be answering all across our state and this nation.

Oh, and governmental officials in Columbus and Washington, please don’t tell us that this question must be answered by the LEA (Local Educational Agency — which is government-speak for schools) and other units of local government. We need to tackle this together, and if we don’t know how to solve the problem, we need to admit it and then work together to find answers at all levels of government.

Alice Marshall and many other educators, parents and citizens at large understand that you cannot build our future by creating and then complaining about the academic failures of our youth. We must build together.

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