Thoughts On A Unified School District
Letter to the editor:
Throughout the history of our nation, public education has been a primary unifying force. It enabled immigrants to be rapidly assimilated into citizenship. For those born into less advantaged circumstances, it provided a chance to discover and enhance their unique talents, to build their sense of self worth, and for many, to go on to great achievements.
Public education has seemingly evolved into a political football, with some politicians apparently bent upon destroying it and replacing it with some vague concept of parental choice. We cannot allow this to happen, because we all have a stake in making public education succeed. Nothing less than the future of our communities, state and nation is dependent upon it.
I think Palo Alto, perhaps as a joint effort with Emmet County, can launch an innovative new approach to providing a superior educational experience for our young people. Theodore W. Schultz, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979. Schultz identified human capital as the primary contributor to prosperity. He was the first economist to systemize how investments in education can accelerate economic growth.
We spend a lot of time bemoaning our continuing erosion of population. If we do the right job of educating our young people, new business opportunities will also be created. Rather than the forlorn hope of attracting existing businesses to our community, we can have the satisfaction of watching new enterprises sprout like flowers in the spring.
Just what do I have in mind? I think we could develop a unified school district, one that incorporates the resources and capabilities of Iowa Lakes Community College. Under such an arrangement, every student would have the opportunity to receive two years of free education after graduation from high school.
Administratively, the system would be directed by one superintendent. The Area Educational Agency has already assumed much of the budgeting and financial management role for the GT/RA district as one example. Its administrative role perhaps could be expanded. I am treading on dangerous ground here, but administrative overhead has been a major factor, in my opinion, in the problems faced by individual school districts. Under the system I visualize, existing bricks and mortar would be incorporated into a total system. Emphasis at the local level would be on instruction, individual counseling and preparing an educational pathway that would fit the individual student. It would provide expanded opportunities for the arts, literature and creative writing, industrial arts, music and drama.
Students could advance according to their own capabilities. This system would not only provide advantages for the academic achievers, but would help others find their own unique talents and to develop them. We need trained plumbers, electricians, machinists, truck drivers, mechanics and other specialized occupations, too. In fact, providing a continuing pool of personnel with identified and developing skills in these areas is something new business enterprises would find quite attractive.
These are just a few ideas, not the final word. If the concept is valid, I am sure more qualified minds than mine can improve upon them and ultimately put them into practice.
(signed) Alan Oppedal