From the superintendent: Spending wisely is next for area schools
It seems almost too good to be possible. After six years of the hardest economic times in recent memory, schools are looking at another year of significant funding increases. The challenge now is to spend that money wisely.
Opinions about how best to utilize the added money will be as common as rice in this county. As an old educator, I find that the most important part of spending wisely is to have a solid process in place to identify and prioritize needs. We will never get everyone to agree, but with a solid process in place, we can reach consensus on how best to use these added dollars.
In 2005, former Secretary of Education Margret Spellings said, "In God we trust. All others must show us data." That statement signaled a fundamental shift in the way school districts thought about and planned for improvement. The first step in reaching a quality decision has got to be looking at the data. Effort and resources are wasted until the district has a very clear notion of what issues are truly big problems versus which problems are perceived as large but are small in reality.
Schools also need to be listening to the community. Public schools are, after all, organizations created and sustained by the will of our constituents. School districts were initially formed with the idea that the local taxpayers who fund them should have a voice in directing district activities. Local control has eroded over the years as federal and state mandates control ever more of district activities. However, there are still many areas in which the community has a voice, and we should make sure those voices are heard.
Another key step is listening to our staff. Teachers and support staff have both knowledge and experience. It only makes sense to tap into that reservoir of information to help guide the district's improvement. In a similar vein, the district board and leadership must bring all their experience and professional knowledge to the table as we work on solving district problems. And we need to remember to get the input of our students. They see what happens in the schools every day and they will certainly have good information about what is, or is not, working in a school system.
With all of that information in place, the most difficult part of the process begins. Reaching consensus about improvement is always the hardest step. Should we add intervention staff at the primary level, or should we add more class offerings to increase choices for students at the high school? Will adding new technology bring about more achievement gains than adding new teachers? Class size is always a concern, but just how small is small enough to really make a difference in student learning? Do we repair the leaking roof or replace the uneven playground blacktop? Determining which actions will bring the most benefit to the students is always difficult. But if we put the needs of the students first, and use a bit of common sense, a solid decision making process can help us invest these added dollars in ways which will benefit our children and our community for many years to come.
– Dwayne K. Newman is superintendent of Colusa Unified School District.