Invest in our schools
Another $2 million-plus in school cuts!
It is happening with such regularity it’s hardly news anymore. There are lots of places to put the blame, but if that’s all we do, we’ll throw another generation of children under the bus. They start kindergarten when they are 5 and finish high school – if they finish – when they are 18, regardless of what Sacramento does.
The only way to impact our kids’ education now is to invest in our public school system now.
The first rule of investing is to trust the people you are investing in. This starts with Louann Carlomagno, our superintendent. When you talk to her, it is difficult not to be taken by her enthusiasm. Underneath all that, there is a resolve and a singularity of purpose to change the way we educate our children, and to do a better job making them ready for a successful career.
Her plan starts with pre-school, and it goes on from there. She knows that schools need to change at all levels – elementary, middle and high school. The fact that a high, and increasing, percentage of our students are English-learners makes the job even more challenging.
There is a lot happening in the Valley, both in and out of the classrooms. For example: Some, but not all children attend pre-school, and there is a plan for that to be expanded. In the elementary schools, an innovative program combines science and English learning. Visual Learning Strategies are now in all our elementary schools. After-school programs are many, on campus and off. We have summer schools providing extra help for students who need it; we have mentoring during and after the school day.
The school board recently approved the A-to-G based high school graduation requirements. Louann and a team of teachers have been focused on preparing all students for college and career.
Now, plans are being formulated to add a career-specific curriculum to our high school.
They all have one common goal: better student outcomes. They share one common need: the necessity for additional funds. The programs require additional teacher time, teacher training programs, volunteers and, occasionally, help from outside the district. We need to be able to evaluate and consider programs and concepts that have proven to be successful in other districts.
To be sure, our community contributes a lot, in funds, volunteer hours, and extra-curricular activities. There are a number of nonprofits that make all this happen. The Boys & Girls Club, the Mentoring Alliance, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, the Booster Club, the Development Trust, Sonoma Valley Fund, the Sonoma Plein Air Foundation, Teacher Support Network, the various service clubs, Impact100 and more. My apologies for the many omissions. Their contributions add up to about $2.5 million and more than 500 volunteers a year, and still it is about a million dollars short of the need. While change is a must, it is never free.
Our Family Foundation has been supporting many projects. Louann is the fourth superintendent in the Valley that I have worked with, and I have never been more confident that changes can and will happen. I have also worked with many capable administrators and enthusiastic teachers who are ready to move forward.
In a way, what is happening in Sonoma Valley is a microcosm of what is happening across the country. Tight – and tighter – budgets, shortages of school funds and lots of government and public tinkering with underperforming school systems. We are all frustrated, yet we feel that the problems go beyond just pouring more money into existing systems. And this is where we may have an advantage over many other districts.
First, we have a small district with less than 5,000 students. At this size, problems are a bit easier to solve. Second, we have the leadership and the momentum to change the way we educate our children.
I encourage all of us to learn as much as possible about the challenges and successes in our public schools. The more you dig, the more little gems you will find. And don’t wait for Sacramento – invest now.
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Les Vadasz is is president of the Vadasz Family Foundation.