What’s right with public schools?


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Apr 16, 2023

What’s right with public schools?

Editor’s Note: Community Comment is a periodic column in The Mount Airy News

Editor's Note: Community Comment is a periodic column in The Mount Airy News featuring commentary from community leaders in Mount Airy and Surry County.

Mount Airy City Schools is proud to be a public school where 93% of our market share chooses to attend our schools. That's the highest it's been in many years. We believe that the founding principles of America included public schools for everyone. The founding fathers felt that education for all would preserve our ability to self-govern. There are countless things public schools get right by living out these principles.

Our public schools are for every single child, they build a mighty workforce for the community, they are under an accountability system for academics and finances, they provide ways to innovate and adapt, they provide meals and transportation, and they allow for democratic discourse and debate. 90% of the population in the nation still attend public schools and we know that it is the great equalizer. A robust education builds the workforce skills needed, prepares students for a successful future, and helps our democracy stay strong.

Public schools, by definition, are set up through our constitution. Chapter 115C-1: A general and uniform system of free public schools shall be provided throughout the State, wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students, in accordance with the provisions of Article IX of the Constitution of North Carolina. Tuition shall be free of charge to all children of the State, and to every person of the State less than 21 years old, who has not completed a standard high school course of study.

Imagine all of the courses that public schools offer and that every single child can have access to these courses — culinary, cabinetry, sustainable agriculture, health science, entrepreneurship, engineering, calculus, biology, chemistry, art, music, physical education, and the list goes on. This innovation with a framework of accountability is our greatest tool in preparing our community's workforce.

If public schools don't exist or are weakened by turning our system into all private and specialized schools we disrupt our growth as a community, state, and nation. We need schools that make sure every child is literate, experiences elective class choices, while building strong reading, science, and mathematical skills. Schools are needed to facilitate internships, match students to mentors, organize athletic teams and seasons, while also teaching life skills, creating marching bands, choruses, theater productions, and success as futu artists.

Even though outside forces often work to dismantle public education, we would rather rally behind it. Our family members and neighbors are the teachers, administrators, staff, office workers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, maintenance workers, custodians, and para-professionals. Our parents are choosing our schools and are willing to work to bring people together for solutions instead of setting up conditions for them to be pulled apart. Let's let the choice of where public dollars go be a local choice made by local voices.

Schools are the hub of the community, from fundraising because a community member has been diagnosed with cancer, to creating competitive athletic programs in every sport, to developing amazing band, chorus, theater, and visual arts programs to greeting every child with a smile and saying their name. The hub of the community gives the community its identity, attracts families for the local workforce, and provides a common approach to education. The goal of Mount Airy City Schools is to graduate all students with a success plan in place. We can all get behind that. Spending time, energy, and financial resources to ensure our academic achievement is solid for every child. Providing extracurricular options such as athletics, arts, and academic competitions to help students become well-rounded, resilient, and radiant. Exposing students to a variety of experiences and opportunities to develop the required skills and firm foundation to make it in higher education, the workforce, or the military.

Oversight to make sure we aren't using public dollars incorrectly is a big plus for public schools. The oversight of a locally elected Board of Education is another effective aspect of public schools. We know that the transparent way we handle finances in open sessions as well as yearly audits makes us well-governed compared to other school types such as private schools. We have yearly accountability measures so you can see how we are doing.

Currently, our high school, for example, is among the top 15% of all high schools. There is no similar measure for private or home schools. House Bill 823 and Senate Bill 406 would allow public school dollars from Surry County to be taken to private schools in Forsyth and Guilford County. If half of the students take advantage of taking public school dollars meant for Surry County to these urban schools then over $600,000 in public funding can be taken with them. I believe it's important to understand that tearing public schools down will be a "lose-lose" for all of us.

Mount Airy City Schools has been the hub of Mount Airy for more than 125 years. We often keep our graduates or attract them back to the area. Two of our principals, Levi Goins and Jason Dorsett, graduated from Mount Airy High School and continue to work for us and live in our community. We can name countless others who have returned to Mount Airy to be teachers in the local school systems and many have returned here so their students can attend our schools. We know what's right with public schools in our area, it's our people. Each of you has been major advocates for our school system and you allow us to serve you every day.

What's right with public schools? Even though many people say there are issues with public schools, almost all of them love their local public schools. We will continue to work with you to make Mount Airy City Schools the hub of the Mount Airy community. Thank you for your continued support and advocacy. We are excited to graduate over 130 students this year with success plans for their future.

If you have questions or would like to take a tour of any of our schools please see our website at http://mtairy.k12.nc.us or call us at 336-786-8355.