Starting the New School Year off Right

Starting the New School Year off Right

Dr. Burton Sisco, Dean of the College of Education, Rowan University Many school officials, students and parents are undoubtedly anxious abou
Dr. Burton Sisco,
Dean of the College of Education,
Rowan University

Many school officials, students and parents are undoubtedly anxious about the start of another school
year. No one can forget the graphic, violent images of the shooting sprees at Columbine High School in
Colorado, Heritage High School in Georgia and at a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles over the last
several months.

But let us not allow these tragedies to cloud our perception of public education. We should be enthusiastic
as we start the new school year and focus on the very best of our educational system. Many, many wonderful
things occur in our schools everyday. As we welcome back our students and teachers this year, we need to
continue looking for innovative ways to make our schools safe, challenging and healthy.

It's just expected that kids should feel safe?and be safe?in their schools. They need to feel confident that
when they go to school each morning, they will not have to experience a bomb threat, or be exposed to
weapons or acts of violence. And parents need to be assured that their children will feel happy and protected
in school and will arrive home safe and secure each afternoon.

We also need to focus on presenting a challenging learning environment. School administrators and
teachers need to aggressively promote strong academics as their highest priority. An academically vigorous
curriculum geared toward children as individuals will help to ensure that each receives the best education

Finally, a healthy environment?one that is nurturing, builds character and invokes pride in self, school and
community?is imperative if our schools are to turn out students who will make meaningful contributions to
their communities and the world.

Affording our youth a high-quality education is perhaps the most important responsibility of our society.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to build meaningful partnerships between public schools, colleges,
parents and the business/local community. We all expect a lot of our schools, but teachers and administrators
can't do it all. It takes a concerted effort by every segment of the community to give our youth what they need
to succeed. And when they do, all of society benefits.

Rowan University has taken steps to improve the condition of public education. Rowan's College of
Education has a long-time partnership with the Camden Public Schools through the Coopers Poynt
Professional Development School, which has been a highly successful and rewarding venture. Plans are
under way to develop similar partnerships with other school districts in the region.

For these partnerships to work, they have to be based on personal relationships, trust and mutual goal
setting. These kinds of ventures improve the way teachers are prepared, the way schools are run and the way
teachers perform. The simultaneous renewal and restructuring of schools that occurs with such associations
positively impact student performance, which is, of course, a goal of the entire effort.

Yes, our schools have and will continue to have problems. For example, research shows that the number of
high school students in New Jersey will increase by 21 percent over the next 10 years. This will profoundly
affect the way schools educate. The need for upgrading aging facilities and increasing school staffing will put
tremendous pressure on public schools and on state resources.

But problems have solutions. Responding to these challenges by building partnerships may be the best
defense we have against mediocrity. Politicians need to encourage the creation of these kinds of partnerships
statewide and across the nation if our youth are to be successful in leading future generations.

Working together will help our schools prepare an educated citizenry?people who are thoughtful, have a
healthy regard for each other and the state, have a strong work ethic, will not accept things blindly, and will
defend their basic rights.

Isn't this what we all expect of our schools?