Chapel Hill: Opinion

Forcella: Public schools have proven track record

Public schools are NOT broken!

Despite what we hear from stumps around the state – particularly at election time – public schools are better than ever.

In fact, this year marks the 175th anniversary of public education in North Carolina. Our public schools have successfully driven the economic, corporate, medical and quality-of-life growth in this state since the Common School Law was passed in 1839. This law established the first free public school in North Carolina, which was opened in Rockingham County. By 1846, every county in the state had one or more public schools.

How did public schools survive this long? Three words: innovation, flexibility and grit.

Public schools have been innovators since day one. Education leaders are charged with, among many other things, keeping schools relevant. This past August, we opened our newest school, Northside Elementary. It contains a green roof, solar lighting, data dashboard for students to monitor energy consumption, and many other cutting-edge technologies for student learning. We have come a long way from the one-room schoolhouse. The software, hardware and network infrastructures are more robust than many businesses, and the work in which our students engage is more rigorous than at any time in the past. Educators rely upon research and data to plan lessons, personalize instruction and measure progress.

Along with churches, public schools are the hubs of their respective neighborhoods. As such, educators live in the realm of flexibility as they continually adapt to meet the needs of their students, families and communities. They have become accustomed to bad news, such as new laws requiring yet more paperwork, increased testing, changing curriculum, greater expectations, longer hours and frozen pay scales. Fortunately, public school teachers are dedicated to the success of their students and committed to the excellence of their craft. The tales of their “above and beyond” service are an inspiration.

And then there is grit – a character trait that research claims is a foundation of student success. And like our students, our public schools have a 175-year history of displaying grit along with perseverance, courage and determination. No matter how many attacks are launched against our public schools, and there have been many, they stand strong. They are the definition of resilience.

Public schools welcome everyone – no exclusions and no admission exams. Regardless of special needs, academic abilities or financial status, our public schools gladly accept the challenge of serving every child in our community. We provide school buses and healthy meals to ensure every child has an opportunity for a world-class education. It is the obligation of the community to provide that opportunity through the very best free public education.

Public schools are the great equalizer and the capstone of a free republic. It is important that we all urge our friends, business leaders and government leaders to support our public schools as we gear up for another successful 175 years.

Public schools are not broken … in fact, they are just getting warmed up!

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.