Thursday, August 30, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

We are continuing to get a great deal of commentary from you on the river-related topics, but I’m going to shift the focus for a week or two to other areas while we digest and organize the information. As we begin the planning for the new session, I want to compare my constituent contacts with some from other legislators with an eye toward those areas that seem to be most common around the state. Please continue to comment. This issue is far from completion.

With the start of schools around the area, please be aware that early morning and mid-afternoon traffic congestion is going to be more prevalent. Please be patient. School buses always have the right of way, so be on the lookout for slow traffic and frequent stops and starts. A moment of inattention can lead to a lifetime of regret.

Speaking of schools, we are starting to get a fair bit of feedback from our Virtual Schools program. This alternative is part of the state Charter School District and is enjoying a lot of positive attention from parents and education analysts. Being relatively new, all our data are inconclusive at this point but there is good potential, especially with motivated parents. I have some friends over on Daufuskie Island who are utilizing the Virtual Schools protocols with good success. In my view, it is important to have a spectrum of sound education possibilities to allow parents to find what may be optimum for their children or their circumstances. It is just a commonsense approach to tailor the schooling to the child rather than force all kids into the same old choices, especially since the old system is not currently enjoying universal success.

Having said that, we are still pursuing parity of funding for our local schools relative to the rest of the state. While we make incremental progress, it is a little frustrating when I think that I have been working on this simple issue for almost ten years.

This year, because of redistricting, my legislative responsibilities extend to a fairly large area of Jasper County in addition to Bluffton and Greater Bluffton. To that end, I have been speaking with a fair number of parents in Hardeeville and the unincorporated parts of Jasper. I am hearing a good deal of concern that there are elements of entrenched educational bureaucracy that are not as open to positive change as they might be. This is not a feature that is isolated to one county, but seems to be the rule rather than the exception, particularly in the more rural parts of the state. These areas seem also to be more likely to underperform in the educational metrics we value.

This points to the challenge of providing remedial specialists where required, without sacrificing opportunities for the average and advanced students. It seems clear that the older models of educational organization are simply not geared to effectively handle the requirements of such a wide spectrum of divergent needs. We may well be in for a generation or more of educational experimentation. Because our economic success is so closely tied to how well we prepare the next generation, the urgency of this mission cannot be overstated.

We all wish this were as simple as appropriating more dollars. It is not. We must be prepared to try different approaches, to keep rigorous metrics, and finally arrive at a system that enables each child to find their best life.