On January 20th, President Trump stated that the nation “will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action.” But what do we do when our local elected officials, who arguably affect more of our day to day life than the federal government, neither act nor are even willing to talk openly with the public they were elected to serve?
In response to a letter I penned last week (LINK:http://www.thedesertreview.com/letter-to-the-editor-by-brooks-hamby/) calling attention to the quality of our schools and school board refusal to speak publicly, self-styled community activist and contrarian Eric Reyes advocated a line of thinking that can best be described as an adversarial and reactionary style of political discourse. This takes the form of waiting until the climax of a serious enough public problem, haranguing defensive and unimaginative school board members for a timed three minutes allotted for public comment, and waiting for these skittish members to respond at the next month’s meeting in a flaccid prepared statement. Or perhaps even bullying until the desired outcome is achieved, at least partially.
This is a far cry from what healthy and deliberative democracy should look like. Dynamic school boards should be willing to participate in productive and meaningful dialogue that helps shape the direction and focus of their work in tandem with community expectations and aspirations. Successful democracy occurs when people debate, deliberate, share and challenge new ideas, to ultimately best serve needs of the most people possible.
Ideally, our schools, the boards that govern them, and the citizens that engage with them should look something like this: a well-informed public guides the direction that school boards(as public servants) take in operating our schools, while continuously monitoring progress and adjusting for best practices and performance.
Currently however, discourse around our schools looks more like the following: a public kept in the dark believes themselves unqualified to direct how school boards(who see themselves more as a Homecoming Court than public servants) should operate, leaving these exalted figures running on auto-pilot failing to track progress or regress, and further neglecting to adjust and improve over time with best practices in mind.
Our schools are currently in crisis— though it is a crisis very few, even our elected school board members, seem remotely aware of. What function do BESD schools and BUHS serve if less than one in three students are capable of passing as proficient in reading and writing in the English language? What purpose does Brawley Union High School serve if 87% of young people graduating fail to display a “competent and adequate understanding” of basic high school level mathematics? If these schools care little to ensure that all students are at least “competent” and “adequate” in basic skills and knowledge, what is the purpose of our schools?
Our schools cannot flourish until we can engage in open, honest, and frank discussion. Our public school board members are servants to the public— it is time that they recognize that shaping and guiding the next generations of citizens and workers of Brawley, Imperial Valley, and our Nation requires much more from them. How can the quality of our schools improve until we first identify the gross negligence responsible for school failure, then seek to provide opportunities and ideas for substantive improvement? More broadly, how can improvement be had if we refuse to interact with or even speak to one another?
For our school board members to shy away from talking about our schools beyond the comfort of their plush leather chairs at monthly school board meetings is sophomoric and childish, not to mention directly limiting to the improvement of our failing schools. This letter serves as an attempt to ignite dialogue for improvement. As the public, we should not be reactionary or adversarial. Instead, we should monitor and correct the work of our public servants beyond the boardroom.
We need more open and honest dialogue and not less. The quality of our schools should be an issue of continuous concern, not simply touched on briefly every two years during campaign season. We need our board members to act for the improvement of our schools— they can only accomplish this if they first talk openly with the public they serve, not hiding from it.
As such, it is more important than ever that these board members accept the invitation to speak about their work with the public through new and creative venues that expand opportunity for civic engagement and information like Gil Rebollar’s Small Town News podcast— certainly more ideas and focus on school improvement should be welcomed, encouraged, and eagerly adopted by our school boards.
* Update: As of yet, none of the below listed school board members have accepted the invitation to speak on Gil Rebollar’s Small Town News podcast.
Gabriel Contreras – [email protected] – (760) 348-9906
Ralph Fernandez – [email protected] – (760) 344-6246
Carol Sassie – [email protected] – (760) 344-7267
Patti Wilson – [email protected] – (760) 455-2422
Rusty Garcia – [email protected] – (760) 587-1319