Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stealing the Whole Railroad

The best thing about being a pessimist is that you can only be surprised, and never disappointed. For reasons that predate my arrival in The Rose City, many of us living here wear a coat of disappointment as a sort of shield, lest we get too excited or happy about a possibility working out for the best. Some of us seem to enjoy living in a world with little more than varying shades of gray or choosing to not make choices, unmindful that by choosing NOT to decide, we still have made a choice and that choice has consequences we often fail to see, or to see in time.

Because we've spent so many years struggling to manage economic development the way a horse runs, looking no more than one footfall in advance of where we are, we've allowed ourselves to be managed by events rather than mastering them. As another school year begins for those with children in Norwich Public Schools, we are seeing in classrooms across our city proof that our myopic perspective is limiting our children's horizons and our own possibilities for improvement.

Collateral damage in our continued inability to enhance revenue streams and increase the Grand List has been the death by degrees of many of the school enrichment initiatives some of our older children had when they were students. Quite frankly, the reductions the Board of Education needed to make, because the money simply wasn't there, went beyond any pretense of 'fat' and cut to the bone.

If you had a child in Bishop or Greenville School, you already know this school year is different and not just because of the bus ride. The size of the classes has changed, the staff available in the schools is smaller and the limitless possibilities that a quality education is supposed to provide every child at every desk in every school have been sharply reduced. We are a city sending children in the primary grades into schools that lack the tools and talent to enable them to fully succeed-and it's not going to get better in the immediate future.

This isn't going to be a tough year for our children--this is another year in what will be a tough life. As Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel write about in 21st Century Skills "(o)ur current Knowledge Age is quickly giving way to an Innovation Age, where the ability to solve problems in new ways...and invent entirely new industries will all be highly prized." But if our children are going to be in the wave creating new ideas and offering fresh solutions to local and global problems, we'll need to prepare them better than we're doing and perhaps better than we're able, at least right now.

We need to rethink how we "do" school if we are to help our children become successful in the Brave New World Order with which so many of us have had problems. That's why the Board of Education is partnering with the City Council to rethink how our schools and teachers work with our children and within our community. In the coming months, you'll read a lot more about their plans-not just here but on the front pages and hear it discussed, I hope, not just at Board of Education or City Council meetings, but in parent-teacher conferences, in the supermarket and on the front porch of a neighbor's house.

As is so often the case, there are no quick fixes, no drive-by solutions or instant corrections--right now, those whom we've elected to leadership are finding out what they don't know, before they can start to craft a new approach and partner with all us of across the community, and beyond, to provide our children with the greatest of all gifts, a brighter future. If you think because you don't have school-age children, you have no stake in this effort-this would be the moment to rethink that assumption. The time to question everything will be here in a moment; brace for impact.
-bill kenny

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