Let's Celebrate All Our Successes

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, "Opinion," March 14, 2000, p. 11A

There’s more good news about education than we know – nationally and locally.

National facts from the Center on Education Policy and American Youth Policy Forum may surprise you:

We have more than our share of local brags as well. We have state and national finalists and champions in virtually every athletic event, form of music performance, speech and debate, scholastic journalism, math and science contests, art, poetry and chess.

The same local high school that produced more National Merit Scholar finalists than any school in Iowa was also able to put the state’s championship football team on the field. A Big Ten university has now recruited its coach.

Another high school recently received Grammy Foundation designation as one of the nation’s top ten music programs. One of its faculty, now an administrator, is responsible for creating a national award-winning student newspaper and leads a delightful faculty music group.

One of our junior highs won the regional Math Counts competition.

A number of teachers have achieved the distinction of National Board Certification.

An elementary school was selected as both one of the top 238 schools in the U.S. (National Blue Ribbon School Award) and two years earlier as one of Iowa’s “First in the Nation in Education” awardees.

Our two elementary schools in the “Basic Schools” program were nationally recognized.

Another avoided the debate about whether to make our district the nation’s preeminent writing district. It just went ahead and did it. The National Council of Teachers of English recognized and publicized this school’s innovative “Parent-Kid-Teacher Investigators” program.

It’s probably no coincidence this school also has one of the most informative and colorful Web sites.

And one of our kindergarten students just won the state poetry prize.

Moreover, skillful management of building maintenance gives us one of the best physical plants in the state.

I’ve not referred to schools or persons by name because these are just a handful of illustrations from dozens of examples. Nor are omissions deliberate. They’re just the result of aging memory and a concession to the shortness of a column.

The fact is that we have a lot to be proud of in our school district.

Students who strive. Parents who volunteer. Teachers who make the extra effort. A community that celebrates and supports its schools. Staff who contribute in dozens of ways – mostly unrecognized.

The dozens of awards and recognition are nice. But it’s the thousands of unrecognized daily events that make the difference:

Does a school district with our achievements risk arrogance and irrational resistance to improvements? You bet we do. But neither should we suffer anxiety and self-doubt while wondering how we’re doing.

We have a lot to be proud of in K-12 public education – nationally and right here at home. It doesn’t hurt us to pause occasionally and celebrate that fact.

Nicholas Johnson is an Iowa City School Board member. More information is available on his Web site, www.nicholasjohnson.org.