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Ventura County Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON COMMUNITY

School News: It's Better Than You May Think

When locally based businesses lend support to their hometown school systems, the entire community benefits.

May 16, 1999|GRACIA A. ALKEMA | Gracia A. Alkema is president of Corwin Press Inc., a Sage Publications company, headquartered in Thousand Oaks

Recently I was lucky enough to be one of two dozen businesspeople and community leaders--from chief executives and presidents of major corporations to local business owners and even the mayor of Thousand Oaks--invited to be part of the Principal for a (Half) Day program in the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

Again as in years past, it proved to be insightful, fascinating and just a little bit astounding . . . particularly now.

The popular sport of school bashing began some time ago. For at least a decade, we've been presented with the myths of kids who don't learn, teachers who don't teach and top-heavy administrations consuming scarce resources when there aren't enough books to go around. Then have come the horrifying but all-too-true headlines of violence, including the incomprehensible events at Columbine High School in Colorado.

That's why the Principal for a (Half) Day program is so valuable--to me, as a publisher of books and journals for schoolteachers and administrators, and to the larger community. We need to be able to know what's myth and what's fact about our schools, to know what's good and worth protecting and also what kinds of changes thoughtful citizens should champion.

Sage Publications has sponsored this program for four years and has supported others in Conejo Unified for several years. The owners and management make available $500 mini-grants for teachers in the language arts, scholarships for three Ventura County students (through employee-led fund-raisers), tuition for Conejo Valley teachers participating in a writing program at UC Santa Barbara, and funding for the International Baccalaureate program at Newbury Park High School.

It's not just because our company is bighearted. Strong schools are a cornerstone of any successful community. They help businesses of all kinds attract top-quality employees and managers. They provide a pool of well-prepared potential workers and customers. And they reinforce high community standards to ensure that our hometown will remain the sort of prosperous, pleasant place in which we can enjoy living and doing business for many generations to come.

I know this year's Principal for a (Half) Day program was equally valuable to the other men and women who participated, because now we've seen schools close up, with our own eyes. And we've seen a lot more good than you'd think.

The truth is, our schools are filled with committed teachers, administrators and other adults who really care about kids. Teachers do teach and kids do learn--and the curriculum is a lot more rigorous than what we went through "back in the good ol' days."

Academics are important, and everyone in the school knows it. But school means more and contributes far more than textbook learning. It also means thinking, problem solving, teamwork, getting along with others, being tolerant of those with different backgrounds or views and growing both socially and emotionally. Principals and counselors and coaches spend hours of their own time, after days that would drain the best of us, shepherding kids through additional activities that contribute to the all-important growing-up process.

Is the Principal for a (Half) Day program worth the trouble and expense? It certainly takes time and commitment to open up "SchoolWorld," even for a few hours, to business and community leaders. But with contributions from the businesses involved, and with volunteers such as Madeline Hess at Sage Publications to do the organizing, it's not a burdensome program for any group. And to my mind, it is very much worth it--now more than ever.

Gaining valid insight into the life of our community's schools is important for all of us. It shows how much we can understand and support all those who work to make schools run as well as they do. It also gives us reasons to hope and issues to examine and debate.

More chambers of commerce, service clubs and other community groups would do well to follow the example of Conejo Unified. By inviting non-educators to walk in the principal's shoes, they would help people from a variety of occupations see and appreciate the monumental job of public education.

By the way, although each of us came away with renewed respect for principals, not one of us wanted the job for more than that half-day!

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