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Beach High is latest victim in vicious cycle
Courier editorial
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Last week, 200 Savannah-area educators learned they were losing their jobs. Some probably had it coming. Most probably did not.
The mass firing, a last-ditch effort by Savannah-Chatham Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Lockamy to keep the state from taking over the chronically low-performing Beach High, qualifies the school for $6 million in aid over the next three years, according to an article posted Friday on the Christian Science Monitor’s Web site.
Under U.S. Department of Education guidelines, other options for persistently struggling schools include closing a school completely, turning it into a charter school or replacing the principal and implementing a variety of other changes. The approach taken with Beach is called the turnaround model. It allows for the fired staffers to reapply for their jobs, but only 49 percent can be rehired, which is a shame because it’s likely that more than 49 percent of Beach’s teachers were doing everything they could to make the school more successful.
In fact, school district public information manager Karla Redditte told the Monitor that Beach Principal Deonn Stone, who took over in 2006 when the school had already been on Georgia’s needs-improvement list for three years, raised Beach’s graduation rate from 49 percent to 66 percent in 2008-09. While it’s not a complete 180, the accomplishment is more substantial than it seems.
Educators like Stone who are fearless enough to lead schools like Beach have their work cut out for them — and they know it. Administrators don’t take positions at failing schools because they’re prepared to make overnight successes of floundering institutions. Educators take on such enormous challenges because they have the patience and the knowledge to work toward improvement one small change at a time. They celebrate each success, no matter how tiny, because one student reached is better than none at all.
A deteriorating school doesn’t morph into the picture of efficiency in one year — or even a few — just as a failing student doesn’t make the honor roll after improving his scores on a couple of tests and assignments. It takes skilled teachers, of which Beach likely has many, time to turn things around, and they certainly can’t do it alone.
Educators cannot be held solely accountable for a school’s poor performance. Students and parents must also shoulder the burden. Parents who refuse to take active roles in their children’s education aren’t doing anyone any favors. Students who are not taught to value education will not take advantage of the opportunities schools afford them. No amount of administrative encouragement, optimism, coercion, threats or even discipline will make these children take their academic responsibilities seriously.
This problem will continue no matter how many teachers are fired, no matter how qualified their replacements are, no matter how many failing schools receive multi-million-dollar grants. As long as parents don’t put an emphasis on education and demand excellence and dedication from their children, students will follow suit. Students will continue to shirk their responsibilities. They will continue to fail. They will continue to drop out of school. They will continue to not care.
These drop-outs, who were never taught to understand ambition, will probably become adults who work for low wages as unskilled laborers — if they work at all. They’ll eventually become uninterested, uninvolved parents and their children, in turn, will suffer. The cycle will repeat itself and the uneducated will live in poverty.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but consider this statistic from a recent Washington Post story: Every day, about 7,000 U.S. students drop out of school. The problem is concentrated in the nation’s poorest schools. Just 2,000 of America’s schools — about 12 percent of the nation’s total — account for half of the nation’s dropouts.
Beach High School could hire 200 college professors with doctorate degrees and the school district still might not get desirable results. Until good teachers get the support they deserve from district administrators, the government and, most importantly, parents and students, no one wins.

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