Who are the real conservatives, and what does that have to do with the School Board ? It is fashionable these days for candidates to seek the "conservative" label. But what are the real conservative principles, and how do they apply to the schools ?
The conservative philosophy rests on three foundations --
1) LIMITED GOVERNMENT Applied to public schools, limited government means that curriculum, teaching methods and evaluation of results should rest more with local school boards and less with the state. There is no role for the federal government. Second, limited government means more authority should leave the Central Office and flow to the school principals, assistant principals, and classroom teachers. They know their students, parents, teachers, available facilities and the culture of their school, which makes them the best judges of how to teach. Local decisions are the best decisions. Teachers should spend their time teaching, not complying with administrative directives and filling out forms.
2) FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY Henderson County public schools are a big business, the largest employer in the county. The public schools account for $32M (25%) of the county budget. Any enterprise this size has hundreds of nooks and crannies where ineffective or wasteful spending can hide. These black holes must be assumed to exist, sought out, identified, and eliminated. We should be getting more education for the $125,000,000 we're spending. A fiscally responsible School Board would strive to direct money and resources to classroom instruction benefiting students, not to administration, pet projects, or programs of questionable or unproven value or politically correctness.
Note that fiscal responsibilitydoesn't mean spending as little as possible -- itmeanssqueezing the maximum value out of each taxpayer dollar.
It also means persuading the state and especially the County Commissioners to give more support to essential programs that have been neglected, particularly those programs in which we are clearly behind other districts and the rest of the country. Our county standing of 98/110 in per-pupil expenditure is nothing to be proud of; that's actually fiscal irresponsibility.
3) PRESERVATION OF TRADITIONAL VALUES Remember the 3 R's: readin', writin', and 'rithmetic ? Along with critical thinking, they are what students need for whatever path they take in life. Are our current students developing these skills? Could some recent methods of teaching these subjects possibly be less effective than the traditionalways? We have a one-hundred-year experience with what works and what doesn't work in this county, and we should compare our present curriculum with past results because we seem to be falling down.
Further, schools used to be the place where traditional values were passed along to students as they studied patriotism, the American way, our political system and the separation of powers, how government works, and what's kept us free. I believe we need to bring back old-fashioned "Civics" as a required course. This is how our traditional values can be perpetuated from generation to generation, and to our new Americans.
"Impossible" is a big word used by small people with no vision --Muhammad Ali
Dr. Harris with a West High junior at a service club meeting
Photo courtesy of the Kiwanis Club of Hendersonville
ISS ISSUES IN EDUCATION, p. 4
Summer Internships Summer can be a great time for learning. There are many retail businesses, manufacturers, camps and recreational facilities in Henderson County in need of summer help. If recruitment were done through the schools these jobs could be structured as educational experiences. Students could choose a job that aligns with their career plan or special interests. A pilot project carried out last summer was highly successful. When the summer ends many of these internships can continue as part-time and weekend jobs through the school year. Graduates entering the labor market can expect offers of full-time employment from companies that got to know them during the summer internship. College-bound students may convert their experience to a job during summer vacations.
Opinion: Win-win !! The School Board should add summer internships to the curriculum, grant academic credit for the experience, and use their influence in the community to attract internship offers from local businesses.
ISSUES IN EDUCATION, p. 4
School Choice In North Carolina, parents have the option of sending their children to public schools (1,425,000; 86%), private or parochial schools (96,000; 6%), charter schools (49,000; 3%) (see below), or homeschooling (88,000; 5%). It is a core responsibility of government to provide public schools; it is a moral obligation that these schools offer quality education equivalent to or better than the other choices.
Opinion: The right of parents to educate their children as they see fit should be defended, as long as standards can be assured and the parental decision does not incur public spending. Within Henderson County, parents who choose public education should be able to enroll their children in the school of their choice, as long as there is room in the school and the parents agree to provide transportation beyond their district.
Term Limits Service as an elected member of the School Board is a noble civic duty, and some continuity in Board membership is worthwhile. The terms of the members expire in different years so that institutional memory is preserved. But we have a situation where some members have served many consecutive terms, which tends to discourage innovation.
Opinion: The Board should consider term limits for members. Two terms (8 years) is optimal, three terms should be the limit.
Transparency The public meetings of the School Board are mild affairs with lots of announcements and quickly-passed motions, but little discussion. The announcements suggest that much of the work must be done in private. While confidentiality is appropriate when personnel or individual student matters are considered, the taxpayers and parents are not seeing their representatives at work and do not hear discussions of important issues.
Opinion: The School Board meetings should be re-structured so that more of the deliberations are conducted in public sessions.