Opinion

Bainbridge Island schools have much to be proud about | GUEST VIEWPOINT

BY BOB SEABY

After enjoying spectacular summer weather, students of Bainbridge Island School District returned to class on Wednesday, Sept. 4, for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

As many of you are aware there have been e-mails and letters via the Tripp Wire and other venues describing, discussing and analyzing all that is allegedly wrong with our schools and in most cases offering solutions.

I referred to one such problem on an island discussion group as being more of a “First World problem” and quickly drew the wrath of the moderator.

Nonetheless, when we read of the Philadelphia schools not having sufficient funds to open many of their schools, the Chicago system suffering massive teacher layoffs and school closures and nearby Snoqualmie teachers almost going out on strike, we should count our blessings.

Of course no system is perfect as we read and hear of some Bainbridge parents working with district officials seeking what is best for their children. However, I do believe that Bainbridge Island schools are indeed excellent as reflected in the continuous financial support of the community, the professionalism of its teachers and most importantly the achievements of its students.

Unfortunately, the time for school articles, especially those of the sky is falling slant or the grass is greener elsewhere persuasion, is no longer confined to coincide with the opening of school in September. The doom and gloom e-mails and stories continue year round.

As a result, I thought it might be somewhat novel and even refreshing to focus on the positive, for there is much that is positive and noteworthy about our community, our teachers and our students to share and appreciate.

To write that Bainbridge Island schools enjoy community support is an understatement.

For the last three years, the Bainbridge Schools Foundation raised and awarded the school district more than $1 million to reduce class size and support innovative programs.

Additionally, the Parent Teacher Organizations and the various Booster Clubs contribute well over half a million dollars each year to deal with needs and requests for assistance at individual school sites.

Finally, there are many more organizations, businesses and individuals, too numerous to list here, who generously assist the district and our schools to the eventual benefit of our students.

Let’s face it, people do not give money to a school system in which they do not have faith and confidence. The Bainbridge Island community demonstrates its support year after year through its generous donations to the school district. Likewise the school district, through its teachers, consistently delivers excellent educational programs designed to challenge and educate our students.

I firmly believe that the backbone of any successful school system is its teachers. I sometimes refer to teachers as the end-of-the-line service providers. When the bell rings and the classroom door closes it is show time and all those young eyes and ears are focused on their teachers, ready, willing and quite able to learn.

To capture and capitalize on our attentive students, Bainbridge schools have a teaching staff of 224 educators with average teaching experience of 14 years. There are recently hired teachers who are teaching for the first time on the island and the most senior have 40 years of teaching experience.

This group of teachers is also highly educated. Of the 224 teachers, three have doctorate’s degrees, 179 hold master’s degrees and 25 are nationally board certified. A remarkable 81 percent of the teaching staff hold advanced degrees. It is quite obvious that the island’s students are in good hands.

Many of us know that as a result of the efforts of the office of the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, we are testing our students ad nauseam. Many educators and parents agree that we are spending too much valuable time and precious funds on testing and in too many instances this preoccupation with test preparation and actual testing is at the expense of quality instructional time.

I am a firm believer that for most students the only two tests that carry any real weight and significance are taken in the high school years and that would be the state driver’s test and either the SAT or the ACT.

But what about the island’s students? Being the recipients of all this support, care and concern, how do they stack up?

For those who enjoy and relate to statistics and factual information, the Bainbridge High School profile page is a gold mine of data stating that 93.6 percent of its students graduate in four years and the five-year Cohort Extended Graduation rate is 97.5 percent.

Last year 89 percent of BHS seniors had plans to continue their education with 77 percent going to a four-year college or university and 12 percent to a two-year school.

Graduating seniors gained admission to more than 200 public and private colleges and universities in the United States and internationally while being awarded well more than $1 million dollars in scholarships.

After analyzing 21,035 U.S. high schools and then ranking 4,805 schools,  U.S. News and World Report awarded a gold medal to Bainbridge High School and ranked it seventh in the state of Washington and 274th in the United States. Eagle Harbor High was awarded a silver medal and ranked 22nd in the state and 985th nationally.

As I wrote earlier I believe our schools are excellent; but as other tests in various grades indicate there is always room for improvement. However, with almost 90 percent of our high school’s graduating seniors going on to college or junior college the Bainbridge Island community can stand tall and be proud.

Having been a teacher for almost 40 years before retiring in 2008, I have witnessed and endured my share of alleged experts with their PowerPoint presentations, attended required mind-numbing staff development and in-service days and experienced the absurdity of No Child Left Behind.

Gratefully, I missed Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top competition. Bainbridge, like many communities, also has a few individuals, although not actually teaching or involved in education, who nonetheless consider themselves experts in all matters of education.

Unfortunately, these self-appointed experts have a penchant for making mountains out of mole hills so that small issues or misunderstandings become major concerns and dubious solutions are offered for these alleged problems.

Bottom line is that we have to consider if what we are offering our students is preparing them for life after high school. It seems obvious that Bainbridge Island schools are meeting this challenge. Knowing this, let’s appreciate our good fortune. Recognize and be thankful for the continuous financial support of the Bainbridge community. Support and work with our teachers and congratulate and encourage our students as they advance from grade to grade and eventually graduate.

A Japanese proverb is spot on correct when it offers: “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”

Our children are fortunate to have many great teachers here on Bainbridge Island.

Bob Seaby is a retired public school teacher who taught in California for 35 years. He retired in in 2008 and lives with his wife, Mary Lynn, on Bainbridge Island.

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