I had the privilege Thursday night of attending the Columbia Public School’s Hall of Leaders event which honored 2 outstanding volunteers – one of them being CPPS board member Steve Calloway-, 5 retired teachers and 5 outstanding alumni. It was easy to feel proud of our schools and the education they offer when listening to high school musicians play beautifully, eating food prepared and served by students in the high school culinary arts program, and watching the excitement and pride on the students’ faces as they were complimented and supported by the community members who attended. Listening to the honorees speak was also inspiring. The alumni each talked about how the educational foundation they built at CPS contributed to their success, and each mentioned specific teachers as well as feeling the support of the community. Those who had left Columbia talked about how they wish their kids had access to a similar system. The teachers each talked about how much they loved teaching, and how rewarding it was to help our children and see them grow. The volunteers reminded us how the schools can’t do it alone — that ultimately our public schools are community schools and they thrive when the community invests its time and energy. Steve talked about the achievement gap and expressed his belief that Columbia has everything it needs to close it — we just need the commitment to do so, which requires that we believe and invest in all of our kids.
The importance of community support of and involvement in our schools was also a key theme at the second dialogue session we hosted using the Ensuring Our Future dialogue guide. This session was held at the ARC on September 26, 2015. Although we had a smaller group than at our first dialogue, they were thoughtful and energized! Compared to the support discussed by CPS alumni at the HAll of Leaders event, the sense of the dialogue participants was that that support had eroded as Columbia has grown and needs to be strengthened. We can do that by being honest about the issues; all of us (parents + teachers + students + community) working to support, understand and care for each other; and focusing on the real needs of our community. This too requires a sustained commitment, and a willingness to focus on the common good. Read the notes here.
There will be more opportunities in the months to come to learn about the needs of our children and families, to talk with one another, and to take action together to strengthen our community. We will be working with the Cradle to Career Network to promote and facilitate dialogues around the documentary series The Raising of America which premieres on November 17. You can watch on PBS or at watch parties around town. Stay tuned for the schedule of follow-up dialogues and documentary segments. Details will be posted here.