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Disappointing comments from an educational leader

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By Geoff Hamill

Disappointed.

That’s the word that best describes how I feel about comments made at last week’s school board tax hearing.

I’ve attended several of these hearings since I moved to Washington County nearly six years ago, and I have listened to comments from citizens who have concerns about their increasing taxes. That’s understandable. I know some people feel the pressure of the rising costs of living that are not necessarily accompanied by increased income. It must be hard for older citizens who are on a fixed income, as well as others who may have seen hard times. Anyone with a job today is fortunate to have it, and should feel blessed to be able to get by as well as we already do.

Those aren’t the people in whom I’m disappointed. My disappointment is in a leader in the educational system, Patsy Lester. Since I’ve been at this newspaper, Lester has been the chair of the local school board. She is a woman who has had a long career in education, and no doubt has a passion for the students being educated by our local schools. However, over the past two years, I’ve sat in these tax hearings and other meetings and listened to Lester make comments that, in my opinion, show a disregard not for education in general, but for what education has become in this modern age.

Last year, when the board was talking about possibly making upgrades on the current campus or even building a new high school in the future, Lester commented that a child could learn in a barn. To me, that statement said it was not important to have the updated facilities our kids so badly need, and deserve. If you travel to other school systems for activities, you have probably noticed as I have that many of these schools have much nicer facilities than we have here in Washington County.

I was bothered by that statement last year, but after hearing a similar one last week, I couldn’t believe my ears. During the tax hearing last Wednesday, Lester said a kid could learn sitting on a rock if he had a good teacher.

Learn? Sure. But learn what?

Today, education is much different than when many of us were students, and different than when Lester worked as an educator.

There were days when students could sit on a rock in a barn and learn what they needed to know to be prepared for the world they were facing. Not today.

Students in today’s schools are preparing to compete with students from around the world, and many who have recently graduated from high school and gone on to college have already found that new challenge. No longer are they trying to get a job before someone from across town, or in our own county or even a neighboring county gets it. Now, they are fighting for jobs against people from other nations who are preparing for some of the same old careers, but in new ways. Technology has changed how many of our jobs are done, and if we don’t have the tools in our classrooms, and the quality of classrooms themselves, our students will not learn what they need to learn in order to be prepared for these new challenges.

Facilities are another area where we need to make upgrades. Education is the primary purpose of our schools, but in talking to coaches here in Washington County, as well as coaches with whom I am friends in other areas, it’s clear that without sports and many of the extracurricular activites offered in the schools, there are students who would not be in the classroom. Instead, they would drop out and have little to no hope of a promising future because they would not get an education.

Yes, perhaps you could learn sitting on a rock in a barn. But if you plan to go that route, you better hope that barn is equipped with Wi-Fi, and has new computers and teachers who can challenge kids with advanced classes and activities to stimulate them and have them prepared as well-rounded, well-educated people ready to take on the world in the 21st Century.

Lester’s vote against the tax is just that, her vote. She has every right to it, as she does to her opinion about learning environments. This is in no way intended to be an attack on Lester. I enjoy a positive, professional  relationship with her as a member of the school board, and hope I will continue to do so in the future. But I also hope to see her realize how important her comments about education in our county are, and the impact they can have on the morale of the administration, faculty, and even parents and students of Washington County.