To the Members of School Board lSD 564:
Two weeks ago at the Northwest Area Learning Center, we all got word that things would be changing dramatically. Dale, the social studies teacher, and I will be moved part time to the high school. Our secretary will be moving to Franklin, and someone from upstairs will be our part-time secretary. I cannot begin to tell you how devastating this is. I know we have been told that is due to budget, but I think we cannot be shortsighted when it comes to the benefits of this program.
I have been a teacher in this program for 11 years, and I have worked hard to make it successful. Our students do not always have the best home lives; in some cases, they are downright awful. We are the only home and the only stability that some of these kids have. To take that away doesn’t work. I think the reason that so many of our kids are successful is that we work hard to build relationships with them. We are the first positive face that many of them see in the morning, and the last positive face they see before leaving. We are home to some of them. Many don’t leave here until they have to because it is a safe place for them.
We understand that our numbers are down this year and were last year as well. But the prior five years we did make the district money. And even if that wasn’t the case, I always ask myself, “Is it best for kids?” Is cutting a program in half what is best for kids? I think that answer is clear.
When we tried to look at scheduling next year, it is clear to see that those students who have been taking three credits a term (full time all day and evening classes as well) will not be able to do so next year. We just will not have the manpower to offer those classes. That means that there is a strong possibility of the district’s graduation rate going down next year and in years to come. To give you an idea of how many students this may affect, last year we had 18 full-time ALC graduates, and we had 34 part-time or summer school students from Lincoln. This means that we helped 50 or so students, about a quarter of the whole class of 2017, graduate from Lincoln High School on time. In addition, we helped 15 students from six other districts graduate on time as well. A possible solution is the use of more computer programs, but our students need MORE face time with teachers, not less. They haven’t been successful before when left to work more independently, so we do not feel that is what is best for kids.
I attended the funeral of a former student recently. I looked around the room and saw at least 10 students that the ALC has helped. I cannot believe that we are seriously looking into essentially decimating this program. I cried not only for the student lost, but for all the students that won’t have our program to turn to when things are bad.
In looking at scheduling, there are so many issues that need to be addressed. At some points, there may be only one teacher in the building. Say, for example, if Loren is gone at a meeting. Do we leave 20 students unsupervised in the building? When there is only one teacher, is that teacher expected to have all 20 students in his or her class? Part of what makes us work is our class sizes. I can name three students off the top of my head who left the high school because large classes made them anxious. One is now at a four-year college, one is at Northland and just received two scholarships, and one will be graduating on time this spring. With their severe anxiety, they never would have made it without our smaller class size. I was told that class size doesn’t matter, but I disagree. I can show the research that says it absolutely does, especially in
classes with high need students.
Turning back to the budget, I cannot stand to hear that education is a business. No, it is not. It is a public service paid for with tax dollars. And not only that, but to give one building over half of the district’s cuts is neither fair nor equitable. There are plenty other programs and departments that do not make the district money, but they did not have over $100,00 proposed to be cut from them.
I cannot turn my back on my students and this program. I love it and the kids I serve too much. If I don’t advocate for my students, who will? These kids deserve it. I know that I am doing what is right for kids. They deserve to have someone fighting for them.
Thank you for allowing me to share my position.
Mandy Schuster
English Teacher, Northwest Area Learning Center