Education price will be paid, for good or ill

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 5, 1998

By Charity Mack / L’Observateur / August 5, 1998

DEAR EDITOR: Two years ago today, I sat anxiously awaiting my job interview at East St.

John High School. After a summer of training for Teach for America, partof the umbrella organization Americorps, I was hopeful, enthusiastic, and ready to start my first real teaching job. For months, 500 other young,idealistic individuals and myself had been bombarded by techniques for handling difficult students and pointers on successfully adapting to a new environment. I was sure I had all the necessary tools for the job.Two years later, I have learned quite a few things that I didn’t anticipate about the problems plaguing public schools. I once held the simplisticperspective that all public schools need to turn things around are intelligent people devoted to providing all students with the opportunity of a quality education. Now, I know different. Like every teacher, I havehad difficult students and situations, but I truly enjoy my job. I have metmany dedicated teachers, able administrators, and devoted school personnel. At East St. John High School, I have had the privilege of workingalongside a dynamic principal, and many intelligent, motivated individuals, including my students. Many times this left me asking what’slacking? Unfortunately, what’s missing in the St. John Parish School System is thesupport from the community. Financial backing is critical, and I seeexamples of the St. John community rejecting their responsibility tosupport the schools. On July 18, all the committed individuals who tryevery day to create fundamental and positive change through education were once again told they are not valued, and that their efforts are not respected. What professional in St. John Parish believes that respect canlie in $22,792 a year, while only miles away in St. Charles Parish, respectstarts at $27,377? It is no coincidence that St. John ranks number one inthe greater New Orleans area for the number of uncertified teachers employed, while St. Charles Parish has the lowest percentage ofuncertified teachers in the area.

You get what you pay for. Education holds the key to a community’ssurvival and growth. Every other state in the nation gets its educationalfunding from property taxes (not just from those property owners of more than $100,000, either). In this country, Louisiana consistently ranks lastin education and is currently waging a steep, uphill war. On July 18, amajor battle in that war was lost in St. John Parish.Whereas I used to view St. John School System as more privileged thanother under-resourced school systems, due to the presence of dedicated educators, I now realize that without the community support, this is not true. The plight of St. John schools is tragic; they hold so much potential,but not enough support from the community will inevitably lead only to the number of uncertified teachers to rise, and dedicated teachers to throw up their hands and grow bitter. Hence, the downward spiral willquicken its pace.

I have decided to stay for at least one more year in St. John Parish, unlikemany of my peers who inevitably are tempted away to schools in other parishes and in other states where they can work with better conditions for much more pay. Why would one stay? Why would one decide to teachhere? I’ve wondered that myself after this vote. Sadly, the ones who willhurt the most from the community’s lack of support are not the teachers, like myself. Teachers will move on. It’s the students I’m touched by everyday who will pay. The children residing in St. John Parish who are excludedfrom a quality education will still be living here. Where do you think a kidwill turn who has been denied this quality education? Those who voted on July 19 against the proposal for improvements vitally needed by the St.

John School System will also pay the price, and I can guarantee the price will be more than $62 a year. Pay now or pay later.Charity Mack


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