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School Board, 7.22.19: One Worthy Question

Whitewater’s school board met in regular session on Monday night, with an agenda of 16 items, of varying importance.

In a two-hour, open-session discussion of over a dozen items, with topics great and small (and at least one board member as interested in wheedling or badgering himself into future meetings as any deeper question), there was one truly worthy topic, beyond all others, posed as a question.

Whitewater High School Principal Mike Lovenberg, while discussing academic performance measured through class work and standardized tests, and the occasional gaps between the two measurements, asked the most important educational question of the evening:

How do you make students want to do well?

In any community — but especially in rural communities like Whitewater’s that are beset with low incomes, poverty, and dim-witted cronyism, of few reliable policies but too many pain pills, of students’ emotional and physical challenges — after a meeting’s administrative fuss, came this truly educational question. (It was clear from the discussion that Lovenberg’s question involved inspiring students rather than compelling them, of course.)

A few board members, and to my recollection only a few board members, spoke in response to this question, offering possible explanations for the gap between some academic metrics and others (such as test fatigue or test anxiety).

These are plausible causes; they likely account for some of these gaps.

And yet, and yet: is it not clear that some of these gaps arise from the socio-economic condition of this community? And look, and look: is it not obvious that many have been injured by deteriorating economic and social conditions while some of us have been free from the pain of socio-economic decline?

How students learn in these conditions, because many are in these conditions, is a fundamental question. Even other questions that seem important are inferior to this fundamental one.

A newspaper’s intern and editor (Gazette: intern Pierce, editor Schwartz) may think that the headline from the meeting is the possible dissolution of the nearby Palmyra-Eagle School District, but that’s a superficial selection for a superficial readership.

It’s rural socio-economic conditions that have afflicted Palmyra-Eagle, conditions that afflict the whole area, and under which Whitewater will have to advance learning no matter how few or how many students come this district’s way.

Officials fretting about absorbing part of another district have an even greater matter than this, already before this district, to which not one has a sufficient solution.

Officials and others concerned (as I am) about the hiring of a new middle school principal have an even greater matter than this, already before us, to which not one of us has a sufficient solution.

How do you make students want to do well?

2 comments for “School Board, 7.22.19: One Worthy Question

  1. J
    07/24/2019 at 1:13 PM

    Writing from campus I can say that it is an important educational question. Anyone here would recognize it that way. There is a definite connection between economic conditions and student learning. Tying the question about learning to economic conditions is right on target.

    One problem is that many of my most capable colleagues live outside Whitewater. Cities within comfortable driving distance are more popular for faculty members, sorry to say. It’s been like that for years.

    Not having much input from campus keeps Whitewaters schools from looking like schools in interconnected college towns. Sometimes it is hard to sense the impact of being a college town based on how issues get addressed. Integration between campus and the schools is FAR less than it should be.

    Realistically, most school boards will stick to meat and potatoes stuff. A university next door should give a big advantage in insight but it’s not developed that way.

    (It’s sad but I can’t say I’m surprised about what you mention in paragraph two.)