by Dr. Tim Markley, Superintendent
Every once in a while, we need a reminder about the importance of public education. Being a strong advocate for public education, I would not have necessarily thought that I needed a reminder, but I got a very strong reminder a few weeks ago while I was attending the Back to School Cookout in the Houston Moore community. It was a nice, warm August afternoon for administrators and teachers from Alderman Elementary and Myrtle Grove Middle Schools to meet students and their families, who may not have had the opportunity to attend their schools’ upcoming Open Houses.
While there, school staff members witnessed a tragedy – a drive-by shooting – that unfortunately has become all too common in some of our public housing and high-poverty areas. Just two blocks away from the fun-filled picnic, a young man was fatally wounded during a drive-by shooting. One would not have imagined that such a sudden, violent crime would have occurred in the afternoon while the community had gathered to celebrate the new school year…but it did.
I would like to publicly commend the school administrators and teachers. They didn’t try to escape the picnic. They chose to stay with their students and understood that while they could have left the gathering for the security of their own homes, they knew that their students had no place else to go, so they kept the party going to support their students – making the best out of a difficult situation and surroundings. The teachers at these schools and all of our schools are committed to making a difference in the lives of all students, regardless of where they come from or what their background is. We need to recognize that this type of tragedy can and does have a lasting impact on the students that come to our schools every day.
We also need to recognize that public education is the only way out for many of these students. We serve as a shelter of refuge, a foundation of strength, a morsel of hope for many students, who are surrounded by the darkness of their reality and the violent crimes that engulf their communities, their homes. They struggle with trauma and life circumstances that most of us will never experience. When they come to school, we need to understand the traumas that they are facing and how we can work with them to meet their needs – both educationally and socially.
What drove this home for me was the comment of one young student. When speaking of the event to some of the people there I said, “At first, it sounded like firecrackers,” and this student looked at me and she said, “It’s never firecrackers here.” No student should have to grow up in that kind of environment. How can we expect students to learn and pay attention when they grow up scared or indifferent to the violence that they see around them every day?
I commend our staff who are willing to work with some of our most challenging students. They do this because they want to make a difference and understand that if these students are going to be successful, we all have to be part of the solution. I believe the entire community has to be willing to be part of that solution. We need to provide safe areas for our students outside of school, where they can grow up and not experience violence as a daily occurrence.
As we begin this new school year, I come with a renewed sense of the importance of the work that we do. I also come with a renewed sense that the work we do makes a difference in the lives of our students and the well-being of our community. I urge everyone to get involved and help make the life of our children safer. Whether it’s being extra patient with a frustrated student, sharing a listening ear to hear their fears, or just a smile and a few kind words, the school day may be their only positive experience. The importance of public education is endless. Please join me this year – as you have for many – to continue to support our students, our future.