We Must All Work Together
By Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte
Nearly 20 years ago, my predecessors on the Board of Education, with laser like focus, decided to prove to the public that children and families would be better off, and learn more, if they had the choice to attend a neighborhood school on the traditional school calendar. To accomplish this goal, school district officials knew they would have to convince the public of the need to develop a school facilities program and hire accomplished professionals. Funding was important, but the key to success has been the extraordinary detail of the planning and implementation of the construction program.
That same comprehensive approach must be applied to the instructional program. The steps to build or modernize a school are contained in a Strategic Execution Plan, a multi-page flow chart with hundreds of boxes anticipating every step and contingency in construction. Boxes are used for the steps taken to identify the area of our community that needs a school to ensuring that every fire extinguisher is in place and operational before the first student arrives. A hallmark of the school facilities construction program is the step by step, no excuses discipline applied to the task.
The school district and the school board need to apply the same laser beam focus to student instruction with the same intensity and attention to details to accomplish our true mission. We need to plan out the educational path of every child from before they begin school in our pre-K classes to his or her selection of a post high school graduation opportunity. We must plan for every contingency and add a box to our instruction flow chart when something unexpected comes up so it is never unexpected again. We must prove we can apply lessons learned, replicate success and eliminate the ineffective.
Concentrating on instruction and academic achievement takes at least as much discipline as building a school. School district officials need to look past the distractions thrown at us like cartoon brickbats by those who hide behind the skirts of reform but appear to want to destroy public education. The public schools, from pre-K through college are the great equalizer in our country. They are what allow the most recent immigrant, the child from a group home, the paraplegic, and the legacy child at Phillips Andover Academy to all have a chance to attend Harvard University or a public college. Public schools accept all comers, and work and work and work with children who want an education but have no one to advocate for them.
We learn over and over that not all children can depend on a parent to keep them safe or ensure they apply to the best possible school. If we were to create an instructional path to success for every child, every child could be nurtured and protected within our educational system so those without could fare as well as those holding a silver spoon.
For those who want to minimize the achievements of the school district, they need to reflect upon what the school district can do when it has the support of the community. The successful construction program is matched by many other great achievements such as the outstanding LAUSD magnet program. We need to do better for more this school year. In 2009-2010, we can if we begin to dedicate as many resources and as much energy to the academic achievement of children as we have to building schools and special interests.
As we begin a new school year, we should all pause and reflect on the true mission of the school district - providing educational opportunities for children. This is a mission achieved through instruction - not construction, not real estate transactions, not purchasing, not transportation, not accounts payable, not bond offerings, not food services, but instruction.
Without argument, the school district could do better in the area of instruction, and the district will continue to replicate its best practices throughout our schools. However, the school district cannot do it alone. All community stakeholders - parents, students, teachers, community members, churches, businesses and elected officials (including School Board Members) can do more to improve the educational process for our children. We must all roll up our sleeves and work together to make sure that all students have access to a quality education. The kids are depending on us.
Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte represents District 1 on the LAUSD Board of Education.