If there’s a problem in the classroom, and a student is consistently misbehaving or underachieving, parents will get together to speak with the child’s teacher. Additional parties may be pulled in, such as a counselor or principal.

The stakeholders will review the situation and ask clarifying questions. What is wrong? What is working? What needs improving? What can all the parties do to be part of the solution? If everyone is truly invested in the child’s welfare, there should be an open and honest conversation. The same is true when a school district is not measuring up.

The latest report from the Wyoming Department of Education contained a lot of interesting information. One graph that caught our attention looked at failure rates. As of Dec. 17, 2018, 41.2 percent of Rock Springs High School freshmen had at least one F. In higher grades, the percentage of students with F’s were 35.2 percent of sophomores, 32.8 percent of juniors and 27.7 percent of seniors.

The state also reviewed the number of students on track to earn six credits, which is an indicator of graduation, since you need nine credits every school year to graduate on time. While 82.5 percent of 12th-graders were on track for six credits, only 72.5 percent of ninth-graders were meeting this mark.

While some are pleased when Sweetwater County students finish in the middle of the pack, sometimes beating the average isn’t enough. When it comes to postsecondary readiness, 61.2 percent of RSHS students are college or career ready, which outpaces the state average of 51.5 percent, a painfully low bar. Looking more closely, 41.9 percent of RSHS graduates are deemed college ready compared to the state average of 44 percent. Forty percent of newly-minted RSHS alumni are career ready, while only 15 percent of Wyoming graduates can say the same. We shouldn’t be satisfied with these numbers.

To accept this outcome is to embrace mediocrity. Changing it will require taking on more responsibility.

Students need to be held accountable.

Teachers need to be held accountable.

Administrators need to be held accountable.

Lawmakers need to be held accountable.

Parents need to be held accountable.

We all need to be accountable to one another. Society is interconnected, and a system that is struggling will strain linked networks.

The system that the community is responsible for is letting kids down. Maintaining the status quo is not improving the numbers enough, so we need more debate and out-of-the-box thinking.

We don’t claim to have the answers, but we do know they won’t be found if more time isn’t spent on the search. The problems shouldn’t languish unnoticed, unrecognized and unremarked. They should be placed in a spotlight so we can give them proper attention.

Key questions should be asked of new initiatives to determine if they do enough to benefit students — and not just “the district.” For a sample case, consider the proposal to put schools on a four-day class schedule. We’ve certainly heard that staff and pupils are in favor of the idea. Teachers would focus more time on lesson plans and students could attend more extracurricular activities, but is their time apart better spent than their time together?

We haven’t seen studies that show higher grades or better comprehension with this system. We can’t point to statistics proving English language learners or those with learning disabilities improve when they spend fewer hours in classrooms.

There isn’t much research on the topic, and without concrete proof, moving in such a direction is dangerous. All we have are feelings, limited cost saving estimates, and a lot of unanswered questions, like what will parents do for childcare during three-day weekends, or how hard will it be for future workers to adjust to shifts that last five days or more?

Overall, more time should be spent weighing pros and cons. Eliminating support staff like paraprofessionals saves money, but how does that impact the students who depend on their support network? You can cram more kids into classrooms, but what happens when students receive less one-on-one, personal interaction? Employee buyouts cut down on salaries and benefits, but what else is lost when experienced teachers are traded for tenderfoots? These decisions have costs that are felt beyond budgets, and the full price needs to be better evaluated.

The end of a parent-teacher conference shouldn’t conclude the parties’ interaction. They need an ongoing dialog where they constantly review and revise strategies as they search for ways to help kids succeed. The ultimate goal of education is to produce thoughtful, successful people who are invested in society. So ask yourself, are we preparing quality, lifelong learners who are ready to enter the workforce and play an active part in the community?

If not, join us and partner with teachers, school volunteers, administrators, family members, board members, legislators, and neighbors to empower each individual student. It’s easier to settle for average, but our kids deserve better. Show them their worth by doing more.

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