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In large organizations, like a school district, there are always imperfections in the system. That should not surprise us. We will never get rid of all of those. Our task is to identify those flaws that need corrected the most and to appropriately move towards improvement. That process is never finished.
Recently, I have heard complaints of inappropriate language and behavior used by students aimed at those who teach and mentor them. I have also heard of inappropriate use of cell phones both by teachers and by students. I have heard complaints of inappropriate dress by some teachers and some students. These reports are all troubling.
As a school board we are not just concerned about the academic side of education we are concerned that our students become good people. Most of the non-academic instruction should happen in the home, of course, and we don’t want to do anything to work against the good parents in our community.
Recently, the NCSD convened a group of concerned teachers and parents to talk about expectations in the school district. Everything was on the table; there were no sacred cows. Teachers and parents were invited to share any and all of their concerns about the school system in Natrona County. Everyone was then asked to vote on his or her top three concerns.
The top three concerns that emerged were attendance, expectations for teacher and student behavior and accountability.
Inside of our discussion about expectations for teachers and students many participants voiced concerns about language and dress of both teachers and students.
As a response to the community expectation committee’s work, the board has directed the policy committee to take action and look at three issues right away. Those issues are dress code, acceptable language policy and cell phone usage. (We realize that these are not the biggest challenges we face but we had to start somewhere.)
Guess what? Those are all controversial topics. As school board members we are taking some heat and there will be much protest from some members of the community as we talk about those important topics and attempt to solve some of the challenges related to each of those. I am okay with that as long as we can do a better job of supporting our teachers and students in the process.
We are at a crossroads.
We can pretend everything is working well in schools and leave everything the same. We can continue to allow vulgar and inappropriate language and behaviors in the school. We can continue with a non-existent or ill-defined policy on dress, language and cell phone use to be the norm or we can attempt to elevate our standard and demand accountability from all parties involved. If we ask for a higher standard there will be protest. It is human nature to do so.
Understand that there has to be a standard. Chaos does not cut it. There needs to be a standard and that standard needs to be well-defined and uniform across the district.
But we need community support if this is going to work. This is not just a school board issue. This is not just an administration issue. This is not just a teacher or student issue. This is a community issue.
We are not the same society we were 30 plus years ago. We understand that we don’t want to take a young person who is already at risk and kick him/her out of school just because he or she is inappropriate with his/her speech now and again. We don’t want to make a big deal about jeans or cell phones either.
On the other hand schools are supposed to educate and a chaotic, uncontrollable, environment is not conducive to learning.
We need the support of the community. Do you want to see an elevation of standards of behavior and speech in Natrona County School District or do you like it as it is? Do you care?
I promise you there will be many who will say that we just have to accept our current reality and we need to live with it. They will protest that we can’t enforce the unenforceable. They will say that lack of support by some parents prevents the school district from taking action. They will also say that we will lose kids at risk if we demand that they meet a minimum level of acceptable behavior, dress and speech.
During the June 8th Board meeting, two policies addressing the above issues were voted on and approved. Over the next few months, NCSD will work to communicate these changes to students, parents, staff and the community. We will work to answer any questions you may have and implement the new changes. We encourage you to work with us, not against us, and recognize NCSD’s commitment to providing the very best educational environment for students, staff, and the community.