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Hard Choices For Our Schools – by Rodger Dinwiddie, Executive Director


Hard choices face public schools across the United States. In Nashville, Davidson County, our Mayor and the Metro City Council have made strong commitments to two major issues in the community … our schools and safety. As the city’s leadership faces the approval of a budget for 2010-11, the process this year appears to be grueling. There will be unparalleled challenges. As someone who has lived in Nashville my entire life I am grateful to know of the commitment from our elected leadership to keep these two priorities front and center at all times during the budget process.

Other cities also face huge challenges. This past week Kansas City, Missouri Superintendent of Schools, John Covington, appeared numerous times on national media outlets explain his recommendation to close 29 of 61 schools to cover over $50 million in budget shortfalls. Needless to say the recommended changes have left many in the community completely frustrated and overwhelmed.

Budget woes are only part of the hurdles facing schools across.  In President Obama’s comments this past weekend he pledged to overhaul No Child Left Behind, in fact, even changing the name of the program to focusing on  improve our nations’ schools. I believe this is long overdue. Instead of punishing schools even when they have made large gains, efforts will be refocused on giving more rewards and flexibility to high poverty schools that have made gains.

As schools face these and many additional hurdles, there is one that looms large for me. It seems so simple, yet seems to perplex schools across the nation. The issue is how to incorporate the necessary financial resources and create the space in the often rigid school reform movement to allow for young people’s engagement in social emotional programs that enhance student academic outcomes that eventually result in cost savings to local communities. Investing in strategies that improve the emotional well being of young people not only assists schools in improving the overall climate of the school but also helps reduce investments that we must make in the adult and juvenile justice systems to deal with those young people who commit criminal acts. The adage of paying now or later has never had better application.

At STARS we offer supports to students who face challenges in their lives as a result of substance abuse, family conflicts, violence and issues that serves as a barrier to their ability to succeed in the classroom. Through STARS Student Assistance programs, training for teachers, as well as Kids on the Block presentations for younger children, we offer a continuum of care for young people and those who care for them. If we can help your school community address the issues of social emotional learning, please contact us at 615-279-0058.