Saturday, August 15, 2009

You gotta love August?

One of my favorite comic strips has been running a series of vignettes called "You gotta love August": flashlight tag, dozing on a hammock, stargazing, catching fireflies, lolling in the hot weather, cooking outdoors . . . obviously, the family lives someplace outside surreal Georgia, where school starts after Labor Day and August is vacation time. Friends in Virginia always shake their heads when I moan that we have to go back to school mid-August. Their post-Labor Day school start moves fluidly toward a mid-June ending, and their public schools (urban, diverse) regularly hit the high notes on national scores, which seems to be all anyone cares about these days. The only good thing about a late May start to summer break is that the crowds at the beach and Disney World are much smaller. Apparently, much of the country is still in school.

Education leaders in Georgia are holding desperately onto the premise that having a semester end before Christmas is better for test scores. Problem is, test scores aren't supporting that premise. New programs roll out like clockwork (new math! higher benchmarks for reading! No ITBS in 8th grade! block schedule! no homework! no F's!) but the underlying weaknesses in education management have far greater impact on student performance than anything else.

I'm in the thick of the battle for student performance, and have been since we enrolled our children in Austin Elementary School many years ago. We've often joked (a bit smugly) that the schools in Dunwoody are the best private education for the dollar because the quality of teaching and the keen participation of parents have nurtured a very high quality of educational experiences. That's still true today, as we move through middle and high school. Thank goodness for the highly skilled, creative teachers who populate our schools. Way to go, parents who help create and manage quality-of-life programs for students and faculty (PCMS Academic Teams Boosters and DHS Arts Alliance are two of the latest initiatives). Hurray to school leaders who figure out ways to serve the students within the chokehold of bureaucracy and federal testing mandates.

It's a parental prerogative to insist that our children be treated with kindness and understanding. But we know, as adults, that life isn't that nurturing. College professors and future employers aren't going to coddle our kids or cater to their every angst. As pragmatic parents deal with public school challenges, they teach their kids how to get what they need out of imperfect systems. There's always going to be a teacher or boss or rush chair or judge who really, really shouldn't be in a position of authority. Oh, well. Work through it, put it behind you, and move on.

You gotta love August.

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