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Schools do not live by bricks alone

February 01, 2004|by LYN WIDMER

I am a sucker for school bond and school levy issues. I have supported every single ballot issue related to school funding since moving to Jefferson County, W.Va., in 1981.

My commitment to providing quality education for all children is not shared by everyone. I overheard two postal workers complain they had no kids so why should they support more taxes for better schools. I thoughtfully replied, "Oh, yeah?? Well, I get all my mail over the Internet so why should any of my taxes go to the stupid US Postal Service? And by the way, those Bermuda shorts make you look REALLY dumpy."

Maybe it's my imagination but the amount of junk mail I am receiving is on the rise.

This May, the Jefferson County Board of Education will ask voters to approve a $19 million school bond issue. If passed, the bond will be used to help pay for a new high school and to renovate Jefferson High.

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Our county needs a second high school but I do not think passage of this bond issue is a sure thing. Even die-hard school supporters like me have some concerns. I know this is a bond for construction and not for curriculum. I still want to see tangible proof in the proposed floor plans that the Board of Education is going to raise academic standards.

To win my vote, the School Board needs to show how the bond money will promote academic excellence. Naturally, I have some ideas.

I would like to see each school focus on an academic specialty (perhaps science at the new school and language arts at Jefferson High). In a small county like ours, specialized programs will have to draw from the entire school population, not just the service areas of each individual high school.

The layout of the new high school should allow accommodation of innovative education approaches such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The IB program is like a college within a high school and establishes rigorous academic standards that cannot be diluted at the local level.

More than just classrooms should be provided to promote learning. In St. Charles County, Md., the school provides a lounge area for students enrolled in the toughest academic courses to meet, study and relax.

Another suburban Maryland high school has created a "Cyber Café." Dozens of computers are available before, during and after school in a setting that resembles a Starbucks franchise.

To win the votes of people like those knobby-kneed postal workers who have no kids and see no value in approving the bond, the School Board will need to show a strong commitment to community use and access.

Tennis courts, the athletic track, the library, and rooms within the school should be open to the public. In collaboration with the Parks and Recreation Commission, a "school park" concept should be explored so the community can benefit from open space associated with the school.

Trail and sidewalk linkages to the surrounding community and to sidewalks along entrance roads should be a requirement.

Finally, a safe bus, traffic, pedestrian-management plan should be included for the schools with safe turning lanes from the state highways.

I know the upcoming bond is strictly for "bricks and mortar." I just want assurance that the bricks and mortar will be used to create a first-rate academic environment.




Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. Contact her at rwidmyer@msn.com.

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