I have covered school board meetings now for 48 years at a variety of districts, but I’ve never seen such serious threats to public education as in the past three years.
A mob of well-meaning, but wrong-headed and misguided parents and citizens have been screaming at school boards with angry and intimidating rhetoric at public meetings all over this nation. They are deliberately fed misleading and phony information intended to upset them and cast blame on schools for what’s been going wrong.
Too often these people do not offer viable solutions to problems. Instead they vent a lot vitriol that tends to divide us rather than unite us.
Perhaps the worst school board meeting I have ever attended was at the Wayland Fine Arts Center, when an outsider, a political candidate, had to be escorted out of the building for being disruptive and the meeting had to be suspended for 15 minutes. What has become of us?
As a lifelong student and lover of history, I am appalled by those who accuse our teachers or “grooming” students and teaching them Critical Race Theory, a course of study only taught at the graduate level in college. Furthermore, I am appalled that anyone would object to teachers presenting students with the truth about our nation and society.
The result has been a severe lowering of morale in the education field and more alarmingly, resignations, retirements and shortages of people to do the job for unappreciative employers — the public.
My own son two years ago left the teaching profession after 13 years, and one of his biggest complaints was helicopter parents who second guessed much of what he was trained to do. The “torches and pitchforks” crowd I saw in action over the past two years have practiced this kind of approach to school board members, sometimes in intimidating ways.
We also have seeing shortages of school bus drivers, aides, crossing guards and even referees for interscholastic contests. They aren’t the only reason, but loud and angry parents have made significant contributions.
One of the most striking moments I witnessed at a recent school board meeting was when Martin Village Clerk Alice Kelsey rose before the torches and pitchforks crowd and told them that if they weren’t careful somebody could seriously get hurt.
I submit that the biggest casualties were two female superintendents, at Martin and Wayland.
It is with these troubling developments in mind that I comment on the school board races in the general election:
I endorse without reservations the candidacies of Vice President Cinnamon Mellema for the two-year seat and newcomer Jake Gless for a four-year post. I endorse with reservations Treasurer Peter Zondervan for another four-year seat.
Gless has very strong ties to education and this community. His father has been a longtime special education and substitute teacher here and his mother has been active with the downtown Main Street program.
Mellema is perhaps the most capable of all members on the board. I sometimes disagree with her, but I would never question her integrity and knowledge of issues before us.
Zondervan has a nasty habit of coming up with cosmetic and unworkable solutions to systemic problems, but a couple of people I hold in high regard have told me he has very strong inclinations to try to do the right thing.
I’ve already written about how I think it’s inappropriate and bad boardsman ship for former Supt. Norman Taylor to serve beyond filling a vacancy. I also suspect Janel Hott is sympathetic with the torches and pitchforks.
The mob unfortunately includes Mike Warren and Jeff Koon, who did a terrific job heading up the citizens’ effort for the bond project, but he’s been running with a bad crowd.
I endorse without reservation Alice Kelsey and Julie Pallet for four-year terms and Zachary Bailey for the two-year, and endorse with reservations Jason Dykstra. Again, torches and pitchforks play a role here.
Some current board members have displayed the rude and belligerent behavior of the mobs and serve to divide rather than unite to solve problems.
I admit I haven’t been to as many Hopkins board meetings because they meet the same time as another board, but I can recommend without reservations the candidacies of Tom Greig and Traci Rhodes.