A successful community relies on effective schools. It starts with discipline.
WHETHER THEY KNOW it or not, Beloit school board members created an expectation Friday that things will get better in the buildings and classrooms around the city.
That’s what happens when you ask people to bare their professional souls before the policy- and decision-makers running the place.
At a town hall-style gathering in Beloit Memorial High School’s Barkin Arena, hundreds of district faculty and staff aired their grievances as board members and administrators listened. It was a shocking litany of failure, ranging from rampant behavioral issues with unruly students to administrators who do not have teachers’ backs to a lack of mental health and other services for students dealing with under-privileged, traumatic lives. Teachers painted a chaotic picture, worsened by increasing class sizes and high turnover among both faculty and administrators. Several strongly hinted there are two sets of rules — one for minority kids, another for the rest.
TO THE BOARD: You asked. Now, nothing could be more damaging to morale than a lethargic, bureaucratic shuffle into the weeds of policy and procedural review.
This was not a request for consideration.
This was a primal scream for help.
The question for the people in charge is pretty simple: What are you going to do — not say, but do — right now, today, to set change in motion?
Longtime football coach Mark Anderson, perhaps, said it best on Friday: “Talk is cheap. You’ve got to make some changes, and justice has to be colorblind.”
Coach Anderson is absolutely spot on. It’s time to act, not talk.
WHAT SHOULD THAT action look like? The full scope of an action plan will not take shape overnight. We get that.
But here’s something a second-grader likely would know. Teachers are in a classroom to teach. Students are in a classroom to learn. If some students regularly are so disruptive the whole purpose of the classroom is jeopardized, those students should be gone. Outside the walls of the school the world is governed by rules. Those who play by the rules and give their best effort get a shot at the American Dream. Those who act up and behave badly end up poor, in trouble, maybe in jail. maybe worse. A school district that sacrifices educational opportunity by not being decisive with disrupters is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
We don’t run the schools.
But if we did, every school would have a mandatory assembly of all students next week in which it would be announced bad behavior no longer would be tolerated. Smaller infractions would be met with punishment designed to sting. Large infractions would earn suspensions or expulsions, and there would be no quota or limitation on how many might take place. Suspensions and expulsions would continue until the trouble stopped.
Messages would be sent home — by certified mail — to all parents and guardians, informing them what to expect if their kids are the disrupters.
We’d look for a building to give young incorrigibles one last chance. Put them where they can’t harm others, or interfere with kids who want to learn. Offer the malcreants that opportunity, in a controlled environment, perhaps operated like a paramilitary boot camp. But keep the emphasis on the ones willing to behave and apply themselves.
MAKE NO MISTAKE: This is a critical pivot point for the community’s future. The most important institution in any community is its school district, where the next generation is being molded to take its place in society. Doing better than this cannot be a wishful aspiration. It is an existential necessity. Citizens and taxpayers must demand action — and stand ready to support it when the inevitable controversies begin.
Get out of the box, discard old ways of thinking, and go as radical as necessary to create change. That means holding both students and adults fully accountable. Tolerate bad behavior and poor performance, and you will get more bad behavior and poor performance.
Remember, board members: You asked.
The basic formula is not complicated — teachers teach; kids learn; disrupters don’t belong. Commit to enforcing it.