• Looking in the looking glass: How are PG’s Schools Doing?

    by Jon Guthrie

    On a knoll near the Borunda Adobe, the Monterey County Historical Society guards one of the treasures recovered from our county’s past: a one-room school.

    Not so very long ago, pupils crowded that one room wearing pig tails and pinafores, caps and knickers, coveralls and long dresses.  They wrote spelling words and ciphers upon slates, labored to parse sentences, traveled with fingers upon a globe to far places, reveled in the antics of history.

    Those days of a sound, basic education have gone forever, some believe.  Our schools today are said to have withered into scarecrow images of what schools used to be.  A school has become a place apart, more battlement than hallowed hall.  Most of us support our schools, but still … there are a few nay-sayers.

    “Our Pacific Grove schools used to be among the best in the nation, but look at them now,” said one critic, himself an educator (and a grouse) who requested that his name not be mentioned.

    Well … that comment seems a bit extreme.  Actually, in terms of comparative values, Pacific Grove’s schools rank quite high.  Of the schools occupying our district that are judged by the California State Department of Education, four scored in the ninth (out of a possible ten) ranking.

    Not bad at all.

    What the disgruntled educator referred to was not the “core-quality” of schools, as graded by the state, but the schools’ extracurricular offerings.  Although Pacific Grove certainly scores well in athletics, some programs, like journalism, have virtually disappeared.  Other programs have miniscule budgets-if any budget at all-and must depend on funding from such sources as parent associations or volunteer groups.  Still, everything seems to be working out fairly well.

    As one parent wrote in an evaluation of her child’s school:

    They have a music program that is funded by the PTA.  Most kids meet weekly and love it!  The art docent program is taught by parent volunteers and is wonderful!

    Mark Baldassare, however, director of a statewide survey for the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California, discerned that most people identify education as a problem area of overwhelming proportions.  Twenty-two percent of these folks cited teachers as being most responsible for the poor quality of public schools.  Eleven percent blamed a lack of state support and eleven percent cited overcrowded classrooms and aging facilities.  Twenty-three percent pointed blameful fingers at parents, local school boards, or school administrators.

    Whatever the reason, however, no matter who qualifies for blame, many concerned citizens are worried.  What should be done?

    Pacific Grove boasts an outstanding adult education program as well as excellent public schools.  The Adult Ed program, started in 1932 as a single woodcraft class, now has more than 4,000 students enrolled.

    Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill has cited higher standards for schools and students, more accountability, and improved teacher preparation as keys to improved education.  Hill advocated giving funds to districts in block grants, instead of for specific programs.  This, Hill says, would give districts the freedom to distribute resources as they choose.

    But … the question today is what resources?

    Schools are working hard to solve their problems and improve their educational product, yet solutions and improvements are more difficult to come up with since the advent of the budget crisis.  From the headaches of this this fiscal mess, however, are emerging some unique ideas … worthiness yet to be determined.

    San Jose is considering running its athletic programs like a corporation.  The parents of each child participating in athletics must invest by buying a share of stock valued at $100 (a handful of scholarships will be available for the needy).  Another school district is considering eliminating all music classes and music teachers, a noxious solution.  Next door in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs have their necks collectively stretched upon the guillotine.  It will not be a bloodless execution.  Angry parents are already demonstrating.

    Word has not yet filtered down telling us how Pacific Grove’s schools will handle the crisis.  Just one thing is clear.  Pacific Grove has faced hard times in the past.  Our schools are sure to handle the problem with verve, finesse, and courage.

    Perhaps, in the rushing pace of modern-day living, we have created for ourselves a looking glass of false blame.  Perhaps we have lost the sense of community, the caring of neighbors, the joys of banding together in partnerships to serve our common purposes.  Perhaps, in these losses, we have damaged both schools and young minds.

    If so, the face in the looking glass is collectively ours.

    Footnote: The author, a former educator, thanks the Pacific Grove community members, parents, teachers, and school administrators working so diligently to make certain the battle for our schools is a battle won.  To check on the current (and future) strategies adopted for Pacific Grove Schools surf over to www.pgusd.org

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 9, 2009

    Topics: Columns & Contributors, Schools


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