The first thing I must say is that the following blog is my personal opinion. I am in no way a representative of the School District of Menomonee Falls, nor do my comments represent the general body of any PTA organization.
Over the last 18 months, public education has certainly been thrown under a microscope. Some would say it has been thrown under a bus, but I disagree. I believe, in general, that it has been good for the public to be looking at public education so closely.
I received my Bachelor of Science Degree in Special Education from Ball State University in 1996. I came away with some lofty ideals of what education should be. I believe very strongly in public education. I have witnessed cases where it is far from the ideal and cases where it’s really on a good track.
After getting my degree, I worked as an aide in a middle school in an Emotionally/Behaviorally Disabled classroom. One of my responsibilities was maintaining the behavioral data. The system they used was a debit system where we marked things like off task behavior and swearing. There were a lot of both. The problem was that the students never really had any incentive to change that behavior. I also worked one on one with students. I had one student that I was working with in math. This student had a dual classification as EBD and LD, which is Emotional/Behavioral Disability and Learning Disability. He was a 7th grader functioning at a 3rd to 4th grade math level. He began to have success with the math I was teaching, but after only a few weeks the teacher I worked with told me I had to stop doing the 4th grade math and teach him 7th grade math, because her boss had seen what I was doing and said he had to be prepared for his 7th grade ISTEP test (similar to the WKCE). I can tell you he was not ever going to be prepared for that 7th grade test.
As frustrating as that was for the student and myself, there were other things happening that made me eventually quit after the first semester. The teacher I worked with was very lax in discipline and let me take the lead most of the time. Then at my review she told me she was worried about my rapport with the students. She didn’t really enforce the discipline structure and didn’t back me up when I did. Parents even told the students they didn’t have to listen to me, because I was “just the stupid aide”. I eventually quit after nearly getting punched by a student.
I never did get back into teaching after this. I went on to have my own three kids and was a stay at home Mom. So coming to Menomonee Falls and starting out with my twins in Kindergarten, I found a much different environment. Having twins has meant having two different teachers every year and now with my daughter just finishing first grade we have repeated 3 of the teachers the boys had. I have felt like my input was valued by all of them and they have all welcomed me as a volunteer.
Our first two years in Menomonee Falls we rented and I will admit that I didn’t join the PTA. I helped out at school, but just didn’t get too involved. We bought a house just as the boys were starting second grade and my daughter was in 4K, so I volunteered in one of their classrooms twice a week, joined PTA and served on a committee. But I still never went to a PTA meeting. Then the next year they were looking for a PTA president and I ended up volunteering. No one fought me for the position.
I began going to one school board meeting a month, because I wanted an overall feel for what was happening in the district as a whole, and not just at Valley View. I realized that I wanted to make my role as PTA president to truly be about advocating for the student and public education. Even with its’ flaws, I believe public education is still the only way that our society can move forward together. Even being a fairly middle class family, my husband and I could never afford to educate our children in private school. I would have to home school if it came to that. We have decided, as a society, that education has to be publically funded and “freely” available to everyone. Without this system, the elite class would always have access to education and the rest of us would be left to fend for ourselves. We all know this is not acceptable.
That being said, the passing of Act 10 and the cap on revenue limits is a way to reset the cost structure in public education. It may be something we value, but not at any cost. Confidence in the system has been severely shaken and will need to be rebuilt one community at a time. I believe that in order for this to happen the public has to take an active role in the public education system, whether you have children in school or not. The public needs to see what is working well and what is not. You may not come to every school board meeting with me, and I certainly don’t expect you at my child’s parent-teacher conference, but find some opportunity to become as involved as you are able. It isn’t the village that raises my children. That is my job, but I appreciate a little back up and our public schools are a crucial aspect of raising all of our children to be productive adults.