The following community commentary will run in Fosters Daily Democrat:
For the past 35 years, I have anticipated the start of the school year at the University of New Hampshire, as families drop off students, and all their stuff, in front of dorms. It reminds me that educators must live up to the trust and heavy financial investment families place in our schools to guide their children into successful lives and productive careers.
I recall as well the worries my wife and I felt when leaving our son at the schoolhouse door. Would he have a teacher who understands him and challenges him to work hard, would he find his own way with a passion for learning, would he make friends? Deep down in us was the American dream, that education would not only provide a path to success but also foster citizenship and solid values in our son. That’s the commitment New Hampshire made in its Constitution and in founding a land-grant public university system. It is a commitment I share as a candidate for state senate.
Public education is the golden chain that binds generations with the promise that America will be an opportunity society of free ideas and economic growth. This chain may be broken unless we change Concord. The legislature saw Republican bills to eliminate kindergarten, to lower the drop-out age, to repeal mandatory education, and to divert millions of taxpayer dollars to private and religious school scholarships. There were attacks on the curriculum that enables a shared preparation in essential skills and the core humanistic knowledge for an informed citizenry. There was an assault on the basic protections unions afford teachers against unfair dismissal or limits on free inquiry.
Parents, school boards, state officials, and teachers must work together to make sure there is a prepared and motivated teacher in each classroom. But the legislature ignored the success of our schools. New Hampshire won the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation for curriculum in New Hampshire’s K-12 schools. In 2010-11, there was an 86.6% graduation rate and the lowest dropout rate in the nation. The National Assessment of Educational Progress for Grade 8 science was up two points and students above proficient were 11% higher than the national average. Nevertheless, as an educator, I know we can do better. New teaching methods, new technologies, the specialized focus of charter schools, as well as support for parents who choose homeschooling will strengthen our schools. Teachers can do better, but no school can succeed without active family and community support.
My own school days began early. My mother was recovering from polio, so off to kindergarten I went at age 4. Caring teachers helped me grow up and love learning. Thank you, Mrs. Bowers, for teaching me to read. And thank you, Mr. Smith, for encouraging me to make a primitive binary computer out of a coffee can, wires, and batteries! And thanks to high school and college teachers who provided a place for open debate on civil rights and the Vietnam War so I could find my own moral and ethical positions, and a deep love for American freedom. As an educator, my life has been devoted to thoughtful inquiry, study of culture and history, and careful consideration of evidence when making hard decisions. Success comes when a student tells me, “Professor, I got a job!” and especially when one says, “I’ll be teaching at a New Hampshire school.”
If elected to serve Barrington, Dover, Rollinsford and Somersworth, I will be your education senator. Public education is essential to our economy and our civic life, and the state must pay its fair share. Therefore, I oppose any constitutional amendment that undermines public education. The economy can’t grow unless we prepare the next generation for employment by funding the University System of New Hampshire and the Community Colleges and Technical Institutes. The fifty percent cut to the University System of New Hampshire means middleclass families face high tuition and graduates are left with debt averaging $30,000. Professional and technical training at our community colleges will be the engine of economic growth, particularly in manufacturing, technology, and health care. Education also lifts people’s horizons, fosters free inquiry, deepens understandings of what it means to be human, and promotes citizenship.
We need leadership in Concord to reaffirm our commitment to excellence in public education. The future of our children and the prosperity and democratic values of our state depend on it.