Public schools are the most important institution in ours and any society. A good public education system is the greatest investment a city can make in its future; it reduces crime, raises home values, and carefully indoctrinates the next generation with the most vital of ethics, from honesty to the value of hard work to the tenets of good citizenship.
Our schools need better funding, smaller class sizes, and a mass citizen volunteering program that puts our teachers in the best position to teach, so that our students may learn. We, the citizens, are the solution when it comes to fixing our ailing schools.
But unfortunately, right now, the citizens are not in charge of our schools. A group of men and women handpicked by the Mayor and City Council compose the Norfolk School Board. By not having an elected school board we compromise the essential part of the democratic process in what should be the most civically minded of public institutions.
It is time for Norfolk to elect its own School Board. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
If our parents, teachers, and community members aren’t happy with how things are going in the schools, they have a right to hold the leadership accountable. Right now the School Board members only answer to the City Council. Parents and teachers—those that live the schools—should be the boss of the School Board, not the group who hand-picked them behind closed doors.
Takes Cronyism out of our School Leadership
Norfolk is a city with a reputation for top-down policies, horse-trading politics, and a monolithic thought process in the leadership that starts and ends with the Mayor. The choosing of the members of our School Board should not be a part of this often-unsavory world of favors-for-favors.
Running for Office is an Irreplaceable Educational Experience
One of the most cited counter-arguments to an elected School Board is that running for office is a grind; it will dissuade some of our best leaders from being a part of the leadership. Number one, I want anyone who is leading our schools to have that drive, that passion for what one stands for, that you need to make it through an election process. What’s more, through the process of campaigning you learn so much from your constituents: their values, singular experience within the system, their ideas to make things better.
An Appointed School Board is a Subtly Classist Institution
Let’s be realistic: The members of our City Council tend to be of a socio-economic class where sending one’s children to public schools is an option, not a given. An elected School Board allows for more of a chance that a regular person can bust their butt through our democratic process and rise to a leadership position. With an appointed School Board the average Joe—who happens to be brilliant, but isn’t on the City Council’s personal/professional/social radar–doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Keeps our School Board Members Up-to-date
The City Council can appoint School Board members based on gut instinct if they want. The teachers, parents, and alums will demand School Board candidates be knowledgeable of the latest issues and trends happening in our schools not just in Norfolk, but in Virginia and the rest of the country. Elections ensure a more broad discussion of the real issues—rather than the comparatively quick and easy process our City Council currently uses to choose School Board members.
Gives the People a Chance to Influence the City’s Educational Philosophy
Serious reform is needed in our schools. If the City Council doesn’t see this, the citizens should have the opportunity to shout with meaningful vigor for new policy. Elections are wonderful because they don’t just hold the incumbents accountable, but they give us the opportunity to implement sea changes with efficiency. The democratic process is an opportunity to elect not just people, but a mandate. That’s important.
De-centralizes Power from the Norfolk City Council
It’s demoralizing to citizens when they don’t believe the City is an even playing field. Every chance the Norfolk City Council gets to dispel the notion that they are a monolithic power structure looking to hoard control, they need to take it.
Tomorrow is Election Day. Vote.