Now that the dust has settled around the State budget, we must look to the future with a fresh set of eyes. The up-and-coming generation deserves no less. This is not a time to bemoan the woeful economic predicament in which we find our State and schools; it is a time to rebuild through collaboration, partnerships and innovation. In order to move forward, we must abandon blame and focus on solutions. This past year, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education introduced a new program, Inside Education, that set the stage for broader community involvement in schools. This unique program, modeled on the successful Santa Cruz programs Leadership Santa Cruz and Focus Ag, provides the Santa Cruz County community with an opportunity to become involved in shaping the future of the 38,000 students in the county’s public schools. Through a series of intensive half-day seminars, classroom and special program visits, Inside Education is a hands-on program in school settings that informs participants on issues, opportunities, successful programs, challenges and the business of educating students.
The research is clear: student achievement improves when parents and communities are involved with their schools. A recent poll on community participation in education reveals that Americans want to become more involved in improving their local schools but are struggling to find meaningful ways.
Participating community and business leaders completed the first cohort in June. These comments reflect their experience: “I could see that our schools are preparing the students for the future with an emphasis on the importance of a strong work ethic.” “The breadth and depth of the Inside Education program is fabulous.” “I learned what dedicated staff is capable of doing. Education is extremely complex!”
The second cohort which begins in September includes a session devoted to school finance. It is important for the public to have an insight as to how public funds are being spent on education and, likewise, education’s accountability to the taxpayers. The number of students enrolled in Santa Cruz County schools has declined only insignificantly over the past decade, yet we find ourselves moving into the 2009-10 school year forced to make-do at 2006-07 funding levels. In the current economic environment, state funding alone is no longer enough to support schools to reach the goal of providing students with a quality education. A child’s learning occurs in large part from family and community. Inside Education hopes to provide an articulation and involvement with family and the larger community with schools in order to ensure student success. The next wave of school improvement must include grassroots initiatives oriented around the actions of individuals, community groups, business, educators and government. A changing world demands reform. Inside Education provides a unique perspective in this journey.