published Thursday, July 26th, 2012

For a better school board

Elections of new members of the Hamilton County School Board are among the most vital ballots. Board members do not just direct the goals and policies of public schools; they determine the quality and equity of schools and the success of students, and through them the community's future quality of life and prosperity. In the economic race into the global economy, we need the wisest school leaders we can find.

You could frame the criticality of the school board's mission more viscerally with a few hard questions:

• Why do VW and other new plants arriving here have such a hard time finding the level of quality employees they seek?

• Why has it been so hard this summer for Superintendent Rick Smith to find funding for final construction of the exciting new STEM school, which is supposed to be a model for improving teaching of science, technology, engineering and math?

• How can we can solve the gang-and-violence problem among young people if our schools are not provided the resources to offer crucial early learning programs to at-risk children and their parents, and after-school programs for teenage students in the most vulnerable neighborhoods?

• How can the school board tolerate the pernicious gulf of de facto segregation and lower-levels of student achievement in minority neighborhoods, and scapegoat mislabeled "failing schools" to obscure the system's failing leadership.

There has been division for years on the school board, and its local funding source, the County Commission, over how -- or whether — to adequately address these critical questions. Thus the most popular schools with high-achieving student bodies are perpetually overcrowded, while the schools with the lowest-ranking student bodies are denied the resources they need to succeed. We need a stronger school board to focused on progress at all schools.

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