Who's responsible for the success of our schools? You are

Long ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you ... you'll be a man, my son." You also might make a good school board member.

Much has been said and read recently about the Carson City School Board. Much of it has expressed discontent with the way decisions are made and the board's response to citizen concerns and public comment. Don't get me wrong; I am grateful to those who have stepped up to the often-thankless task of trying to balance the needs of students and taxpayers. I am merely acknowledging what has been - shall we say - a period of unrest.

The next few years promise no calmer climate while Carson City schools face a number of critical issues, including:

• Solving the problem of over-capacity schools

• Building a much-needed second high school and/or a third middle school

• Attracting and retaining high quality teachers and administrators

• Improving graduation rates

• Expanding gifted and honors classes

• Addressing drug and gang problems

• Building a vocational/technical high school

• Addressing challenges associated with our increasingly diverse student population

• Improving student health and nutrition

• Refocusing attention away from testing and back to teaching

• Raising Nevada schools' national standing

No one solution, no magic bullet can answer all of these concerns - not school choice or phonics or vouchers. Beware of anyone who tells you they have "the" answer. The issues are complex and multi-faceted. Nonetheless, having the right people in the right positions is a good start.

With that in mind, you should know that two citizen groups are already meeting with the intention of influencing the next school board election. Each group has its own priorities, its own agenda. Both groups are attempting to recruit and support candidates to fill available school board seats with people who might be more in line with their particular views.

But the election isn't until November. Why are these groups meeting now? Because school board candidates must file between May 5 and 16. Carson City residents will vote on three school board seats.

• District 2 (currently held by James Lemaire) - The northeast area of town, bounded by Highway 50 and Brunswick Canyon on the south, Lompa, Hot Springs, College Parkway, Northgate, Arrowhead and Imus on the west.

• District 5 (currently held by John McKenna) - South of Highway 50, east of Saliman and west of Edmonds, but including the houses around Eagle Valley Middle School.

• District 7 (currently held by Joanna Wilson) - A vast area in the southeast that is south of Edmonds, Buzzy's Ranch, Fairview and Colorado and east of a zigzagging line along Silver Sage, Sean, Baker, Koontz, Bigelow, Clearview, Edmonds and Snyder.

If you're not sure which district you live in, you can see the map for yourself at www.carson-city.nv.us/Index.aspx?page=90 at the link labeled, "Election Information for Purchase." You can view it online for free or call the Clerk-Recorder's Election office at 887-2087. In fact, all filing information is available online, including the Declaration of Candidacy. The filing fee is $30.

• What makes a good school board member, I mean besides grace under pressure while conducting business on television? Personally, I'm looking for a candidate who:

• Adds light to the discussion, not just heat

• Can articulate a vision for improving Carson City schools

• Invests time in researching the issues

• Seeks out public comment

• Analyzes meaningful data to inform the discussion

• Holds his or her own in a debate while respecting other views

• Looks for common ground.

• Demonstrates problem solving skills and creativity

• Keeps an eye on the bottom line, while not losing sight of the more lofty goal of a free and public education

Perhaps you know someone with the right stuff. Does your sister, uncle, brother-in-law or best friend have it? Your child's soccer coach, your neighbor or co-worker? You? Here's a chance to make a difference.

For better or worse, you and I are responsible for the state of our schools - every parent, community member, every teacher, board member, administrator. Schools don't stand alone. They reflect who we are, our values and priorities. It is in our best interest to have the smartest and most qualified people on the board, in the district office and in every classroom in Carson City. And if we aren't happy, it is our duty to do something. Speak up. Stand up. Step up. Not simply to complain, but to help find solutions to the real challenges of educating and preparing today's children to succeed in tomorrow's world.

• Fresh Ideas: Starting conversations by sharing personal perspectives on issues both timely and timeless. Lorie Schaefer is a retired educator.


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