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Freedom in our schools

by MICHAEL DASHIELL
Sequim Gazette

Enough of the antagonism. People who want change in their local schools need only get involved.

 

That’s part of the message from Jami Lund’s Local School Innovation Project, one that seeks to empower school directors and community members alike to better services for students and families.

 

Lund is the featured speaker at the next meeting of Concerned Citizens of Clallam County (FourC), scheduled for April 23 (see box).

 

Lund is Senior Education Policy Fellow for the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit educational research organization headquartered in Olympia.

 

Lund was a research analyst for the Washington House Republican Caucus for several years before joining the foundation in 2011. During his half-dozen years writing legislative education policy, Lund said he was surprised that citizens and local school board members had seemed to give up their rights to control how their schools function.

 

Far from the idea that school policies are a byproduct of a series of unfunded mandates, Lund’s concept is that more grassroots-level action from citizens and school staff alike can improve schools — rather than wait for change to come from state or federal levels, or even creation and acceptance of alternatives such as charter schools.

 

“Our state laws are very favorable for local control,” Lund said.

 

That includes length of school days and academic years and what curriculum schools offer.

 

“I’ve got two audiences: school board members who need to believe they have the power to improve student lives,” Lund said, and citizens concerned about their local schools.

 

Jerry Sinn, member of the FourC steering and oversight committees, the group hosting Lund at its monthly meeting next week, said some school boards and communities might be hesitant to talk about such engagement.

 

“Our school boards are very responsive to the community in presenting ideas,” Sinn said. “(But) one thing that slows this process down is that if they try some of these approaches, they’re worried about retaliation from a voter’s perspective and litigation. That does hamper change.”

 

Lund’s visit was sparked by FourC advocate Shelley Taylor, who became politically active when she and her husband moved from California to Washington in 2004. She led an effort for a Constitutional amendment for property tax reform soon after.

 

“Education has been a project of mine,” Taylor said. “I am not averse to paying property taxes for education, but I want to get bang for my buck.”

 

After seeing what she call-ed less-than-impressive state test scores, Taylor connected with the Freedom Foundation to see what “bright new ideas are on the forefront” of education, Taylor said.

 

“With FourCs, what we try to do is bring up issues that are important to the community,” Sinn said. “We don’t underwrite candidates or positions or issues. In this case, Jami is primarily bringing information to the audience, (about) different reforms and changes. We’re not having a debate. We’ll identify the need and talk about the options.”

 

Some of those options, Lund indicated, include alternatives to standing in-the-classroom education such as online teaching.

 

“No doubt the world is changing; customization is the norm,” Lund said. “(That will) probably come to education.”

 

Not all communities will want to shape their schools to incorporate online learning, while some will. And that, Lund said, is the point.

 

“There have been districts that have said, ‘We want to offer more in the vocational area,’ and they did it. It can be your priority (and you will) find a way to make it happen.”

 

Lund, who said he’s right-of-center politically, said he simply wants to give power back to local communities and get citizens motivated. Locals know most about what their schools need, Lund said.

 

School board members and superintendents from Clallam County and Jefferson County school districts will be invited to this meeting, FourC officials said.

 

Sinn added, “This is not an attack on the (school) system; it’s sharing of ideas. Hopefully we will stimulate conversation and ideas, at looking at alternatives.”

 

FourC is a nonpartisan group “dedicated to preserving citizen freedoms and liberties through education and involvement in local, state and national issues.” Meetings are held the fourth Monday of each month at the Boys & Girls Club in Sequim and are open to the public.

 

For more information, e-mail fourc.info@yahoo.com or visit fourcsite.org.

 

 

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.
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