COLUMBIA, 10/5/11 (Op-Ed) -- As a Columbia Public School parent, I have much more to praise about the school district than criticize. Here are ten examples, from the things parents see:
1) The Teachers We've Known. Mrs. Underwood, Mr. Greimann, Mr. Steelman, Mrs. Schoonover, Ms. Wingert and so on, from elementary school to middle school to junior high, our two children have had a great group of teachers who've proven both dedicated and caring.
2) The Friends We've Made. Our children were fortunate to start out at the ultimate neighborhood school, Grant Elementary. Nine years later, my daughter still has close friends she made at Grant and our son is making those friends now. The parents have always been tight, and CPS has been a center of friendship with every new school year.
3) Rigorous Homework. As a parent, you hear the claims: "Students in the U.S. aren't keeping up with students in Asia and other places. We lack educational rigor. Our children aren't learning at an accelerated-enough pace." But my wife and I have seen none of that at CPS. From Day One, our two children have come home with challenging assignments in all three R's, many on a level that exceeds what we were learning at that age. Our daughter is presently working on Algebra in multiple variables, for instance, a 12th-grade topic when I was a kid. But she's in 9th grade.
4) After School Shows and Displays. Want to see teacher dedication at its best? Attend an after school performance or classroom display. The level of time, commitment, and planning those extra-curricular activities demand is extraordinary. Like most parents, I'm tired after work, and I always marvel at the teachers who keep going and going, well into the evening, during the school year's many after-school activities.
5) The Music Curriculum. From TJ Wheeler to choir and cello, our children have enjoyed a marvelous music curriculum at CPS. Our daughter took up cello nearly 6 years ago, and has stayed with it, largely because her earliest role model -- then CPS music teacher Carly Bates -- did such an awesome job. Our son is in choir now. We can't count how many excellent recitals and performances we've attended over the years, all brought to us by the school district's commitment to art and music.
6) The West Jr. High Cheer Team. The Cheer Team has been the most challenging activity our daughter has ever undertaken. This would have sounded strange to me before, given stereotypes I had in mind. The program insists on strong academic performance while demanding total commitment to a team environment. Cheerleading, as it is taught at West, is as demanding as the sports it supports.
7) The New Field Elementary. Great decision on the School Board's part to turn central city Field Elementary into an early childhood education center.
8) Adventure Club. Wonderful district-sponsored after school program that combines learning and games with plenty of supervision by teachers and teachers in training.
9) The Walking School Bus. A marvelous, free program operated by Pednet that has adults walking with children at "bus stops" on the way to school.
10) The Community Commitment. The most important part of the CPS experience is the community commitment to quality education. But a word of caution: I think our leaders too often take that commitment for granted. There's a lot to be thankful for here in Columbia, but until this leadership equation changes significantly, I fear the goose laying the golden eggs -- that wonderful community commitment -- may get cooked by a paternalistic leadership culture that desperately needs to listen more.