The first of September marks my mandatory “retirement” as a member of the Board of Directors at Communities in Schools (CIS) after 6 years. I came to Communities in Schools as a board member with more questions than answers, but hopeful they had an answer for the seemingly inextricable problem of our community’s children not completing their education. I had a belief education could make a permanent difference in the lives of our children and their future generations. I still want to believe in the American dream, a promise of opportunity—not a promise of result, but opportunity for all our people. Inherent in that promise is some assurance of a level playing field. In my belief the primary underpinnings of this assurance are, rule of law and education. I know we cannot legislate good parenting, or even good behavior on the part of adults who happen to be parents, but as a society we are obligated to try to give all our children an education that can equip them for success in the world. In my mind if we fail, we risk losing our driving values as a country and therefore we risk losing our own grandchildren’s future. We can cocoon ourselves behind the walls of our closed minds and closed eyes to this failed promise. We can rail on and on about teachers unions, bad kids, bad parents, bureaucracies and on and on and on; much of which contains grains of truth. But after the words fade off, the child is still there unprepared to face a world of increasing complexity without the skills to be self sufficient and we will be forced to take care of them, either incarcerated or on welfare. As a recent New York Times article on the issue of teachers unions and charter schools stated, “Teacher quality may be the most important variable within schools, but mountains of data, going back decades, demonstrates that most of the variation in student performance is explained by nonschool factors: not just poverty, but also parental literacy (and whether parents read to their children), student health, frequent relocations, crime-related stress and the like.”
Does CIS have the answer to all of this, no of course not? There is no one answer. But I can say with total confidence that CIS produces a significant cost efficient positive result to our dropout problem in Tarrant County. CIS does significantly reduce the dropout rate in schools and it does have a positive impact on classroom behavior and attendance, which promotes a positive learning environment for all the students in the school. It does go a long way to leveling the playing field. These are documented hard researched facts not speculation or mushy feel good thoughts.
It does this primarily thanks to the dedicated young social workers that work inside the schools. Folks this job is hand to hand combat. Success is won through skilled, caring hearts and strong convictions that they can make a difference. These young women are not changing the shape of education, they are not magically producing better parents for our children; they are simply making a difference in the individual lives of the children, one problem at a time. Addressing the very complexity of problems in the students lives the New York Times article quotes above, so these problems are no longer a barrier between the child and success. In doing so these young social workers show the child true compassion, not as a statistic but as a person, maybe for the first time. This is why CIS has such success. This is why CIS makes a difference in the children’s lives, in the schools and in our community, a difference that will last for generations.
-Stuart Murff, CIS Board Member