Public Schools are the Heart of our Community

I sat through a performance by the Nichols Middle School orchestra filled with pride. As a longtime Evanstonian as well as a grandparent of one of the players, I felt this group represented the best of what a public school education can provide. These kids were amazing. Here is a small excerpt from the show that blew me away, especially considering that most of the children learned to play in elementary public school programs.

Middle School Orchestra Concert from Lauren Levy on Vimeo.

Their teacher and orchestra director, Christine Huber, works with 51 children from Lincoln, 65 from Washington, and 49 from Dewey Elementary Schools who want to learn to play an instrument, bringing them into the three Nichols Middle School orchestras she conducts. Watching those community kids play so well brought me to tears. Knowing this opportunity will disappear if we do not pass the referendum on April 4 breaks my heart.

Public education is a core right and value in our country and the cornerstone of our communities. My parents, children of immigrants, received educations and thus opportunities by attending public schools. I was even more fortunate, as the public schools in my community opened the door for me to attend college. My children and grandchildren have been educated in the schools that serve our community, the Evanston/Skokie District 65 public schools.

From Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to the State of Illinois, public schools are under attack as they have never been before. DeVos extols the benefit of vouchers, which have been proven to be of limited educational value for poor children and kids of color. She and the Trump administration push charter schools, many of which perform no better than the public schools in their communities while weakening those already under-resourced schools. The State of Illinois is dead last in state funding for public education, leaving the responsibility for financially supporting our school to us via our property taxes.

Yes, our taxes are high, but they pay for 75% of our local education budget. In the near future, if we as a community do not step up to the plate, our schools will suffer tremendously. The children will lose things like arts education (always the first thing cut), full-day kindergarten, and reasonable class sizes. Some of our schools, which are the anchors of our communities, may be closed. Teachers who work to educate our children will lose their jobs. And most importantly, we as proud residents of Evanston will allow a terrible political climate to destroy one of the most important values we have always cherished – good schools for all of our children.

Make no mistake about it. This is our community and these are our children. Even those of us who think we don’t have a stake in the game because we have no children attending Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools must be responsible for ensuring Evanston remains a community that treasures its schools and supports them when there is no place else for our schools to turn. And that is indeed our current situation.

Without passing the April 4 referendum, starting in the coming school year, District 65 is facing significant budget shortfalls with a cumulative deficit reaching $112 million by 2025. If we don’t support our community’s public schools, the district will be forced to make $8.8 million in reductions over the next two years alone. This has nothing to do with teachers’ salaries, as they already signed a 3-year contract that reflects the dire financial position of the school district. This is about educating children beyond the bare bones of reading and math. According to the National Association for Music Education, “Music shapes the way our students understand themselves and the world around them. It allows for deep engagement with learning. It nurtures creativity, curiosity, and personal motivation.” Isn’t this what we want for the children in our community?

In the musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda reminds us of our duty to America, You Great Unfinished Symphony. We are “planting seeds in a garden” we may never get to see. We are writing a song someone else will sing for us. We are making a difference and creating a “place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up.” Investing in the children of our community is part of who we are. We can’t wait for someone else to take care of the problem. It’s on us.

Marian Wright Edelman captured the essence of a community’s responsibility to its children when she said, “The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children.” As a diverse and just community, it is our job to take care of all children by ensuring they receive a high quality education in our public schools. I am #publicschoolproud.

 

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