EDUCATION MATTERS: Gambling on the slate

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

Whoever wins the upcoming election for the three seats on the Del Mar Union School District’s Board of Education will be sitting pretty. There are certainly challenges – finding a new district office, balancing enrollment among the schools, squeezing more and better programs out of fewer dollars, and healing rifts in the community, among them.

But the winners won’t have to worry about what matters most: student achievement. Because for all the strife of the past four years, Del Mar’s children continue to thrive in and out of the classroom.

Thanks to the efforts of self-motivated students, inspiring teachers and involved parents, kids in their classrooms have been insulated from the acrimony swirling around them at the adult level and are able to find success in academic performance at an astounding rate.

Look at the latest Academic Performance Index scores which continue to climb – soar, actually.

Recently released API numbers place all eight Del Mar schools in top-ranked positions in the county. As such, continued student success during these four years demonstrates that the influence of a school board over student achievement may be minimal, and that the dominant factors are parent education and commitment, socio-economic status, resources available to students, teacher quality, staff expertise and professional development programs.

Another issue the new board won’t need to focus on is staff. After past superintendent debacles, this board managed to find someone to replace her who is well-respected, knowledgeable and highly competent. From all accounts, new superintendent Jim Peabody, through his strong leadership, has defused much of the rancor and restored civility in the community, and has reignited progress on pressing issues.

Bemoaning the loss of veteran staff, and implying that they all left due to irreconcilable differences with this school board, is a point that has been raised in this election campaign frequently. School board candidate Doug Rafner said at the League of Women Voters forum on Sept. 20 that it’s “a travesty when they leave.”

But this view should be regarded somewhat skeptically for at least three reasons.

First, some people resigned because they could not work with top administrators: Both past superintendents, Sharon McClain and Tom Bishop, were not without faults. Second, others left to take better positions or to retire. Third, some needed to leave for the good of the organization. Not everyone was a treasure worth keeping.

I’m not being an apologist for this school board. I too have been sorely disappointed by many of their actions – and inactions. However, nothing is so black-and-white.

It may have taken four years of floundering, but the board seems to have finally put in place a mighty fine work force. Under Peabody, things are humming along nicely. Staff and principals seem content, teachers are busily at work without distractions, parents are satisfied, API scores continue to climb and students are excelling.

The district seems to have righted itself. Despite a handful of challenges, those elected to the board this November will have the benefit of steering a ship now on course.

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