Quality education takes leadership

Quality education takes leadership By Rep. Dick Brown An integral part of South Dakota's heritage has always been our pride and commitment to quality education. Before our forefathers built roads, they often built schools. These pioneers understood that education was critical to their children's future success. This is our heritage.

Without major cities or corporate windfalls, South Dakotans have always worked together to find solutions to our problems. Our focus on quality education today should be no different. From parents to the State Department of Education, everyone has a role to play in giving our South Dakota children the best opportunities to succeed.

Local school boards are extremely important in our educational picture. In 1995, the South Dakota Legislature removed over 500 school mandates because we believed that local school boards should have the authority to establish their own rules and regulations. This makes school board elections more important than ever before. Parents, teachers, business people and community leaders need to advocate for informed, education oriented candidates to run for school boards. School board members need to get out of their meeting rooms and into classrooms. They need to focus on their primary responsibility ? putting children first.

I believe that parents have the greatest impact on student achievement. It has been proven in many studies that children do better in school if parents set educational expectations. Parental involvement on a daily basis makes both schools and children accountable. Communication between schools and parents should be clear and on-going. What is expected of the parent and the teacher? Who needs to know when a child is not doing well?

The solution to these issues is simple to implement. It takes communication on everyone's part. It also takes leadership and a willingness to get involved. Leadership willing to be positive, not punitive.

Teachers in South Dakota are dedicated to our children and devoted to education. They are the lowest paid teachers in the country, something that South Dakota should be embarrassed to admit. Part of fixing the whole picture of education is correcting this statistic.

The low pay goes hand in hand with the teacher shortage in South Dakota. Since there is a shortage of teachers nationally, it will become a greater crisis in our state as the majority of teachers reach retirement age and young teachers leave the state for better paying jobs.

Quality education is achievable only through an entire community's commitment to excellence. Business people and community leaders support good schools because it is good for

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business and the community. Good schools attract new residents. Decisions on relocation of businesses and families are often based on quality of education in the community.

Education is everybody's business, from the retired couple who want to keep their local grocery store open to the banker who wants to finance new business and housing loans. Quality education is everybody's business.

Since mandates were removed, the State Department of Education (DECA), has changed from a regulating agency to a resource for schools. It is now their role to support schools by providing information, research, funding and innovative programs in every district.

The DECA should proactively assist school districts with poor test scores in facilitating a means for improvement. The state education office cannot change local school but they can be a resource for change, support, information and creative alternatives so that local school districts can improve themselves.

There are many examples of success in education. The Custer School District with its four day school week rated eighth in the state in test scores and first in schools in western South Dakota. There are lessons we can learn from them. There are successful programs in other states like the arts-based elementary program called A+ Schools in North Carolina and the KIPP schools recently featured on 60 Minutes in New York and Texas.

Education is my number one priority because it affects every aspect of our lives in this state. When our schools are successfully run and our children educated to the best of our abilities, our society is improved, our economic status heightened and our quality of life sustained. Solutions to our education problems will come from leadership and teamwork. We just all need to chip in and do our part.

Editor's note: Rep. Dick Brown (R-Sioux Falls) is Chair of the House Education Committee.

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