Commentary: School cuts will cost students opportunities to be empowered, succeed

To the Harford County Executive and County Council:

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Ben Franklin

Do you wish to have an environment in which students thrive in their education and feel empowered to succeed in the world? Harford County has an amazing group of students and teachers in which this can happen. However, we are also deep in the midst of a crisis, and if action is not taken to support our school system and educators, these students will lose these opportunities of empowerment.

The Harford County Public Schools’ vision is to “inspire and prepare each student to achieve success in college and career,” and the mission is that each student will “attain academic and personal success in a safe and caring environment …” while a goal is to “provide safe, secure, and healthy learning environments … conductive to effective teaching and learning,” and “Hire and support highly effective staff who are committed to building their own professional capacity in order to increase student achievement.”

Throughout my life, I have learned quite profoundly the value of an education. Starting out as a child with learning, speech and hearing deficiencies, school came to be very challenging and I was not always sure that I would make it. Upon my graduation, I had taken the lowest courses available, never taken SATs, and initially had no intention of ever attending college. Today, I have two college degrees and 30 credits beyond my masters, with approval for my next 30. I am a National Board-certified teacher, have helped write county curriculum, and have presented at multiple schools, county-wide professional developments, and even at a state level. In my five years in the county, I have had an overall “highly effective” rating in every evaluation.

I credit the transformation in my life to certain educators who came to me at just the right moment and made an impact I never knew was possible. A great educator — and we have many in this county — can take a student’s perception of his or her ability and completely change that outlook. While a student may see the limits of his own ability, a great teacher may help him see a world that once did not exist. That is a powerful gift in teaching, and one that should never be taken for granted. Teaching is about curriculum, yes, but even more so, it is about fostering a relationship that promotes growth and surpassing self-expectations. It entails challenging the student, yet making the student feel valued and understood in the process. In my life, I have also learned quite profoundly the impact of a great teacher. In learning this, I (and so many others) have continually worked to become the best I can for the students who enter my classroom.

Now, I am on the verge of having my position cut for the second time in three years. Over 150 others are contemplating a similar situation, unsure and uneasy as to what the future may hold, likely anxious and worried about starting over once again. However, this letter is not about my position being cut. Instead, it is about the environment in which we work. For those who are fortunate to have security in their positions, the worry becomes overwhelming class sizes, depleting opportunities toward college and career readiness, and the deterioration of personal relationships that are vital towards student success. Teachers come into this profession embodied with a passion to shape young lives for the better. Yet, for so many, this passion has been overwhelmed with concern towards the future of our school system.

In education, there certainly many moving parts, most of which may be very complex. In the end though, the decisions we make in life come down to this — they are either healthy and promote growth, or they are toxic and promote decay. I ask you, as you make your decisions, just how do they align with the mission of the educational system that should be our county’s greatest investment? As teachers, we invest our lives toward valuing and supporting the students that come into our classroom. I think the greatest thing we may ask for is to feel supported and valued by the community we work for. As over 150 positions are cut, class sizes increase significantly, and elective and completer courses are eliminated, consider how that may affect a “safe and caring environment.” Just how will this “inspire, prepare, and … increase student achievement?” Lastly, I wonder how this may affiliate with the idea of “supporting highly effective” staff. As a “highly effective” teacher on the verge of being cut for the second time, I am truly curious.

Our teachers and our schools are the lifeblood in which students will receive their greatest opportunity in education. If you believe in the students in this county, the absolute best that we can ask of you is to support the system and educators that serve these students. If an investment in knowledge does pay the best interest, then please consider how the decisions you work to make will either be healthy towards promoting growth of the overall vision and mission of HCPS, or how they may send our county away from that vision, allowing it to decay. Consider too, how the impact of these same decisions on staff and schools will either promote student growth throughout the county or ultimately lead to educational turmoil. An investment in our schools is an investment in the future of our county.

Ryan Bayne

Havre de Grace

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