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Letter: Howard County school board should focus on what’s best for students, not politics | READER COMMENTARY

Howard school board should focus on what’s best for students

In a letter to the editor, Robert Miller wrote partisan school board elections erode trust (Dec. 17), and I could not agree more. The Howard County school board has two duties: provide the best education possible for our children and use our tax dollars efficiently and effectively to do so. This is hardly easy and should not be complicated by political considerations.

Prior to the recent redistricting, the board paid large sums to consultants who surveyed the community and reported the priorities of Howard County parents. The vast majority wanted community-based schools, the least possible commuting time, and a consistent and predictable feeder system. In a growing county, it would be difficult to deliver these priorities for all children, but the board did not even try and, instead, did the exact opposite. This appeared powered by political concerns and it was very discouraging to see the extent to which politicians and political clubs contributed funding, endorsements and other assistance to some candidates.

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The new board should focus on addressing parents’ concerns rather than politicians’ interests. Because schools are not now in optimal spots to accommodate increased growth, it will be challenging to adhere to a community school model, but the board can and should approximate this as much as possible, redistrict minimally to stabilize the feeder system and prioritize funding for an “activity bus” at every high school.

Recent research has shown the importance of “school connectedness” for students’ academic achievement and social development. Increasing a feeling of belonging or connectedness with one’s school enhances academic performance and reduces behavior problems and school drop-out. What fosters connectedness? First, attending a school in one’s community, and, second, being involved in multiple school activities in addition to academics. In fact, increasing diversity of extracurricular sports, clubs and other activities has been proposed as an intervention to reduce the dropout rate.

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If students must be moved out of their communities to reduce overcrowding, it becomes even more important to provide a late bus so all students can participate in extracurricular activities. (We should also increase activities in schools with fewer resources.) Fostering a variety of activities enables all students to shine somewhere (even the clumsiest child might enjoy chess or photography or writing articles).

Besides enhancing connectedness for more children, this would have additional benefits. Currently the time when teens begin to get into trouble is 2 to 5 p.m. when home and unsupervised. More teens engaged in supervised extracurriculars would clearly be beneficial for them and for the community.

Dr. Sheridan Phillips

Clarksville

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