On the eve of public schools opening in Harford and Cecil counties, a familiar battle cry had sounded on the western bank of the Susquehanna River: old school buildings need to be replaced.
In a county with in excess of 50 school buildings, replacing a building a year means there is a 50-year waiting list. There's a glaring flaw in this line of reasoning insofar as there are a lot more new schools in Harford County than there are buildings approaching the half century mark. Still, the reality is that on average, over the long haul, it's going to take rebuilding a school a year to keep pace if we want our kids attending schools that are less than 50 years old. And that presumes a stable population.
Even as the politicking goes on about the prospects for a new Havre de Grace High School and a new Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, this time of year is a good one to reflect on a vital element of the educational process: When people reflect on their school days, years after graduation, they remember particular teachers, good, bad and eccentric, fellow students who prompt the question, "What ever happened to..." and the occasional high school sweetheart.
Of course, there are the things we remember and use every day of our lives: how to read, write and do enough math to keep our personal finances in order and, possibly most importantly, how to think critically and keep learning.
Rare is the person who, when pondering the past and the academic lessons of childhood and adolescence, expounds on the virtues of the cafeteria, the vistas seen from the hallways or the majesty of a particular classroom or science lab.
Clearly, it is important for every school to have modern, clean and well-maintained facilities from lavatories to laboratories, but the important thing when it comes to schooling is the people. Without good teachers, students would learn little in the most spectacular of new buildings. Over the years, it's been clear that Harford County Public Schools are top notch, compared to schools elsewhere in Maryland, and Maryland's schools are regarded as among the best in the nation. Nice facilities help, but the institution of the system is its people, and they're what make it work.
Is it perfect? Nothing involving human beings is. Could it be better? If it isn't perfect, it certainly could be. Does it need a new high school in Havre de Grace and a new elementary school in Fallston? That's really a question for another day, though both school buildings are in the 50-year-old range.
As students head back to school, they and their parents should feel confident of their learning opportunities, regardless of the age of the buildings where they do their learning, thanks to the people involved.