Undoing the Collateral Damage to Clarence

Keep Clarence Schools Great is a new coalition of concerned taxpayers and parents who are energized to sift through the dizzying array of “facts” related to our schools and cull the truth from the fiction. Our goal is to not dazzle people with bull and wishful thinking, but to relate the information in a way that is factual and hopefully without bias. Without a doubt though our goal is to continue the excellence of our schools.

Full disclosure: I am a parent of two beyond-active teen boys. When they were in Sheridan Hill I was very involved as a class parent and PTO President but now my work frequently takes me out of town. I am “up” on their schedules and homework – but a little clueless with the local political scene. The vitriol and anger that emerged during the recent school budget was stunning. Stunning because the very people who were so “angry” are often beneficiaries of the school itself – whether it be by attending “senior proms,” playing adult basketball in the gym, listening to the myriad of free concerts, reaping the benefits of endless community volunteering by students, or being parents of kids receiving a phenomenal education.

So is the anger really directed at the school? Or is it something else. I think we know the answer to that. There has been a drumbeat of “government is bad” for the last 6 years – brought to the fore by “Tea Partiers” – people whose agenda is so blindly-driven that any collateral damage is rationalized. While it is firmly believed by many that the “Tea Party” did indeed impact local elections – it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the collateral damage. We allowed a drone to hit our schools – and we now have to live with the fallout, and figure out the next step.

And the collateral damage we face is much deeper and much more insidious than eliminating music or all athletics save for varsity: We no longer trust that others within our community have the best interest for all of us.

But, you can argue, it’s the money! No, for all but a very few, it is probably not the money. As one of the most affluent towns in all of Western New York, where largess and excess are staples, it is about the Principle. It is the principle that “no one will tell me how to spend my money” – and certainly not the government – and it most certainly will not go toward administrators and teachers. “How dare they think they should live in anywhere near the comfort of me and my neighbors?”

If that is your stance, this site will not change your mind. But we hope you recognize that schools are a very critical part of a town’s infrastructure, key to the value of your home and crucial to the quality of our community. In any study correlation and causation are difficult to prove, with studies claiming 25-35% of the value of your home is predicated on schools. And in an uncertain economy like Western New York, Clarence home values have held – and indeed risen. The seniors who are concerned about taxes – have seen their homes appreciate in value – which is not the fate of seniors in Cheektowaga, Kenmore and Niagara Falls. Our schools have protected our residential investments.

And let’s look at quality. This weekend’s Memorial Day Parade was void of music. Music! Throughout history, song, dance and music have been hallmarks of cultures and societies. Some asked why the bands weren’t playing. We cut $6000 from the budget last year – and this year’s silence was one of the very audible consequences. And that is just the beginning.

I have had the luxury of a first-hand experience with many of our teachers and administrators. As one of many many class helpers, I saw 1st and 2nd grade teachers create a Montessori-like environment that allowed kids to progress at their own pace. In business we would call that anarchy. In elementary ed – it is about cultivating exploration and a curiosity to learn. It was a 1st grade teacher that recognized a small reading processing disorder in my son – and with that identification and extra work, my son is an honor roll student — who loves flopping on the couch with a book.

My 5 very active years with the school flowed over to the district level. I did this because involvement meant an accountability covenant: Me with my sons’ schools – and the schools and administrators with me. What I gained was a pragmatic understanding of what it takes to run a mini-city of mini-people. In business I moan at having to do 8 annual performance reviews with direct reports – and absolutely hate having to do their quarterly MBOs. My lord, teachers do that with 130 people. As adults we desire continuous feedback and attainable goals so we can continue career success.  Young, adolescent and teen students are no exception. But unlike in the job market – teachers can’t fire those who are unruly or insubordinate – they are forced to “figure it out.” And thankfully, most do.

A day doesn’t go by that we aren’t reminded that, generally speaking, American school children do not have the skills to compete globally. Clarence is an outstanding exception. The curriculum is designed precisely with globalization in mind. We have over 20 AP courses – of which 60% of students take advantage (and a whopping 77% pass). Those exceptional numbers are the reason why US News & World Report ranks Clarence as a top 500 High School in the NATION – which includes all the prep and private schools who have the advantage of picking and choosing who will be their student body. Clarence’s distinction is the reason why tier 1 colleges look so favorably on our grads.

For those who voted No – but didn’t realize that years of actual frugality meant that actual teachers and classes, indeed even whole curriculums, would have to be cut, well this forum should help dispel the myths that may have driven your vote, and provide mechanisms to help repair. For those who voted No, and nothing will change your mind – trollish comments are not welcomed. We do want thoughtful suggestions of how to save money, how to send a message to the state – but we don’t want rudeness or name-calling. There is no room — nor time – for fantasies either; “Get rid of all the administrators” – please, there are mandates and reality — and rhetoric like that is not helpful.  As a body, indeed as a community there are very few many black and white issues – so we all need to be able to navigate the grey.

Come join us in our greyness – as we hope we can find a bit more to be bright about in the not too distant future.

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