In the world of education, if I can quote from John Lennon’s song, Nobody Told Me, “These are strange days, indeed.” Approximately 52 million children attend schools in the U.S. (over one million in Washington State) with more than 90% of those children attending public schools. Despite clear data to the contrary, groups known as “reformers” with corporate interests in mind continue to characterize public schools as failing, demonize teachers, criticize students, and have convinced many of the media to jump on the bandwagon. Their solution to this manufactured problem (myth)? Privatize education by providing vouchers through tax-credits to attend any private or religious school syphoning off dollars that should be going to improving public schools. Do many schools across the country need to improve? Absolutely! Is privatizing our nation’s schools the answer to the problem? No! Are we seeing the end of public schools in the United States? Absolutely not!
The U.S. system of public education teaches more, helps more, achieves more, and still gets criticized more than any system in any country in the world. One of the factors that make our system the cornerstone of our democracy is the free access all children have to an education. This access is not limited to only those who pay, as it is in many countries. This access is not limited to those with transportation, or to those who can afford uniforms, or lunch, or even a home. It is not limited to those who speak English or those without special physical, emotional, behavioral, or intellectual needs. We take all comers and offer them a free education for 13 years of their life!
Your schools here in Franklin Pierce School District are no exception. We serve all kids, maintain high expectations of all of them, and offer up some of the best instruction by highly trained and dedicated staff anywhere. I know this because I make it a point to get into every classroom in each of our 14 schools and Early Learning Center to observe the quality of the instruction and the engagement of our students. Earlier this spring, I visited over 385 classrooms. At all levels, pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school, I observed skilled and caring teachers providing research-based instruction to our students. From lessons in the most basic components of Kindergarten to a high school STEM class where the students must apply the tenets of physics, geometry, and computer science in designing working robots, you can be pleased and proud to know your local schools are not only succeeding but in a cycle of continuous improvement.
Despite the many challenges we have encountered over the last few years, including significant budget cuts with increasing levels of poverty, cultural diversity, non-English speaking students, mobility, and aging facilities, your Franklin Pierce Schools have continued to show amazing progress. Pick whatever metric or data point you wish to examine and you will find steady improvement over the past five years. Graduation rates, attendance rates, and test scores are all up, while dropout rates, suspensions, and achievement gaps are all down.
We are a good investment and you have demonstrated your support by overwhelmingly passing our bond measure with over two-thirds approval in our election last November. You will soon be seeing some of the projects getting underway and for the next 5-7 years, the district will be transforming itself and our facilities into the learning environments that our students and staff deserve. This is a value-add to the greater community. Once again, thank you for believing in us and in our public schools!
Although the 2017 Washington State Legislature is currently working on a long-term solution to fully fund basic education and finally fulfill their constitutional paramount duty, they have yet to solve this very complex puzzle. They have, however, taken short-term action this past month to delay the “levy cliff” that would have forced us, unnecessarily, to cut our budget for the 2017-18 school year. Thankfully, that will not have to take place and we can now prepare, with certainty, our budget for next year, continue to recruit and retain teachers and staff, and provide our students and families some stability as the Legislature continues to work on the long-term solution.
We will again be conducting our high school commencement exercises at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup. All three high schools will hold their respective ceremonies on Saturday, June 10 for the graduating Classes of 2017. FPHS will lead off at 11:00 a.m., followed by WHS at 1:30 p.m., and GATES will be the finale at 4:00 p.m.
The FPS team remains steadfast in our mission and vision. Our students continue to make strides academically, artistically, and athletically. We maintain our focus on the whole child ensuring they are safe, healthy, engaged, and intellectually challenged. As Horace Mann said over 150 years ago, “The public school is the greatest discovery made by man.” Join us as we work to overcome the obstacles before us, support our students as they navigate through this complex world, and visit our schools when you get the chance.
In the meantime, grab your flip-flops, put on your sunscreen, and make it to a track meet, baseball/fastpitch game, tennis match, soccer match, concert, play, or any of the multitude of end-of-year activities that will be taking place over the next eight weeks. As always, I’ll see you around the district!