Ventura schools need to change more than personnel
By Paul D. White
The timing and manner in which the Ventura Unified School District board fired Superintendent Michael Babb on Wednesday was unexpected. It indicated a strong consensus by the board to not delay in bringing in new leadership that will pursue a “different direction” for Ventura schools, as board President Velma Lomax stated.
The board needs to ensure that this leadership change is “new” and “different” to avoid the truism: “Doing more of what doesn’t work won’t make it work any better” (Charles J. Givens).
The board’s opportunity and responsibility is to step outside the box in finding a courageous visionary to lead the district’s 17,000 students and 800 teachers. They need someone who can deliver a top-quality, comprehensive education system that prepares our children to be independent, contributing members of our community, state and nation.
In other words, the board needs to make a radical departure from what currently exists.
Ventura’s need to transform education at the local level mirrors the same urgent priority nationwide. Test scores released last month indicated that U.S. students have dropped to 38th and 24th in the world in math and science, and that’s just one facet of our schools’ many problems.
Business, political and educational leaders overwhelmingly agree on the need to transform public education, but no one has figured out a comprehensive way to start doing this.
No one, that is, except the Ventura school board, which now has the opportunity to require its new superintendent to implement changes. Here is a good start for transforming what and how we teach our kids:
- We need a more accountable method for ensuring that basic academic skills are being taught and learned. About 60 percent of graduating high school seniors do not qualify for basic college-level classes. Clearly identified learning results, not obfuscated reports and education jargon, must be presented to the board and the community on a regular basis.
- The board needs to insist that incidents of student misbehavior be accurately reported, and the standard for on-campus student behavior must be comparable to what is expected in the workplace. Teachers and students across the nation are assaulted every day in our public schools. Meanwhile, schools have reduced suspensions because they claim to have student behavior under control.
- Ventura needs to join the 20 percent of American public schools that use a variety of creative, legal ways to drug-test their students. Nationwide, 17 percent of high school students smoke, use drugs or alcohol during the school day. Some 60 percent of high school students say their schools are “drug infected” and over 35 percent of high school seniors use drugs of some kind. With 78 percent of employers requiring drug tests, our students’ future employment and health depends on a learning environment that produces students who want to lead clean, sober lives.
- Paid work experience must become a graduation requirement. About 84 percent of high school students don’t work, and their future employers cite the lack of work experience and a strong work ethic as one of the greatest barriers to hiring new personnel.
- Moral values must be taught as conscientiously as English, math and science. Employers list honesty, character and integrity as some of the most important qualities they look for in new hires. Meanwhile, 75 percent of high school seniors admit to cheating at one point, many have sexually transmitted diseases, and the Common Core curriculum adopted by 42 states doesn’t include one word about character or morality. History, however, has a lot to say about once-great civilizations that collapsed when they became solely focused on academic learning and material pursuits and abandoned their moral compasses.
In speaking about the critical importance of effective schools, John Kennedy stated, “Our progress as a nation will be no swifter than our progress in education.”
The same is true about the progress of our community. Ventura school board members: Our community’s future will be greatly determined by your next move.
Editor’s note: Mr. White has made his book “The Stronghold School- Student Handbook” Stronghold Student Handbook 4th available free (click link). Contact him for hard copies.
Paul D. White is a member of QOL-Ventura and the director of the Stronghold Institute, a nonprofit, Bible-based group that provides drug and alcohol counseling and other services. Email him at email@example.com.