There are moments that stay with you forever. Several years ago, I was sitting in Melissa Thompson’s office in tears. Our daughter wasn’t able to attend school anymore. Crippling anxiety made it impossible. There were many days she could not manage to leave her room. The school district had bent over backward offering every possible alternative, and we had sought every form of help imaginable, but nothing was working. Formerly a good student, Sarah’s prospects were looking unthinkably bleak. I had just used the letter we received recommending her for induction into the National Honor Society to get a lower rate on car insurance, but here we were.
Melissa asked me if anyone in our family had ever not finished high school—ever not finished college? I whispered no. It was our family’s tradition to graduate from college. There was never a discussion. It was assumed. Allowing a child to drop out of school was unthinkable. Melissa provided a much-needed reality check that we must do what’s right for each child no matter what that looks like, no matter our usual world-view. She assured me that many students that she has known who have dropped out ended up getting advanced degrees. She said that this did not have to define the person my daughter would become. She handed me a GED prep guide which she placed in reusable shopping bag to hide it from wandering gazes. As I walked out of the administration building that day, the parent of a high school dropout, it occurred to me that our family, a family no one would suspect of bringing down the school’s graduation rate or state rankings, had just done our bit to make the South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools look a bit worse on paper. But it was the right decision for our daughter.
There is more behind the numbers and state rankings than you will ever know. It’s a fact that schools with a large percentage of black and brown kids tend to do worse in the rankings. The reasons are myriad—single parent homes, eviction history with spotty school attendance in multiple districts, kids who can’t get enough food to eat at home, or as in our case, mental health issues which are becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, especially among young people. In addition, public schools must educate every child. Developmentally disabled students are required to take the same state tests too. Districts have an obligation to educate them in public schools, a privilege that developmentally disabled people like my older sister never had in the 60s and 70s. Because of this, these kids are achieving better outcomes than ever before, and SEL is known to be a district that does an outstanding job of meeting their needs—even if it means educating them until they are 21, if it’s in the best interest of the child. Some districts will turn them out at age 18. Not ours. This hurts our rankings, but we do it because it’s right. That’s what it means to educate the whole child. If you look deeply, if you visit the schools, talk to families, and talk to teachers, you get a very different picture of our schools than state tests would have you believe. The purpose of the SEL Experience Project blog is to scratch below the surface, to show the advantages to students of attending a diverse school district. It’s almost uncanny how our graduates tend to favor professions that help forward social justice. We have told story after story about this. When you go to school every day with students who come from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, your world view changes. It creates a deep desire to promote equity. That is a very special gift in our increasingly divided and fractured world.
Voting for a school levy is a vote for your community. It’s a way of saying that every child matters. That in our community, we value education, no matter what the students look like, no matter what they are struggling with, no matter what kind of home (or lack of a home) they return to at night. Quality public education is critical—it’s the foundation of our democratic society. It does no good to keep perpetuating segregation by cutting off funding and creating even more division between the “haves and have nots”. It has to stop. Yes, your taxes are too high. Many things need to change at the state and regionally to fix the system. School funding through property taxes has been declared unconstitutional. The system is broken and there are many working every day to fix it. But in the meantime, this district has gone seven years without asking for more money. This was accomplished through solid fiscal management, and the yeoman’s work of those on the frontlines with these kids: teachers, administrators, nurses, coaches, social workers. They need to be given the tools to do the best job they can. This community has always supported school levies. Every single time. A yes vote is a way of saying that no matter what is happening in our world, our community is taking a stand for equity, fairness, and for the importance of children. Even if they look different from us. That’s a pretty great return on the 66 cents a day this is going to cost us.
If for no other reason, vote yes on Issue 32 to help bolster your property values. Communities that support their schools do better at attracting and retaining residents. Their property values are higher. Even if you have no children in our schools—do it for the community. Because it’s the right thing to do.