Eastern Wake: Opinion

It’s the beginning of the end

By Johnny Whitfield

Johnny Whitfield
Johnny Whitfield ehyman@newsobserver.com

Failing some major meltdown, Monday marks the beginning of my last year as a public school parent.

Between our daughter Pitt who begins her senior year of high school and a sister two years older, we will have been public school parents for 15 years. We most likely share that distinction with lots of other parents.

When you consider my own schooling years, we spent about a quarter century dating back to the early 1970s as direct consumers of the education Wake County schools were offering.

Our children have grown up in several different parts of the state and they came of age as the charter school movement was burgeoning. I remember distinctly, when we moved to Chatham County, several co-workers and community folks encouraged us to put our oldest child in the local charter school.

We declined to do so, largely because we sensed an elitist atmosphere where many of the students were children of parents who didn’t want their children going to school with a bunch of Hispanics. That bothered us and we saw advantages for our daughter in having access not only to Spanish-speaking classmates, but also to the greater resources the public school could provide.

That sense of elitism has never left my memory banks and we never considered charter schools as a viable option. Our children flourished in public schools wherever they lived and went to school. They chose friends wisely and – so far as I know – avoided many of the temptations that snare so many young people.

They were supported by good administrators and good teachers. And when their teachers were a little less capable than we hoped, we made sure, as parents, not to fuss, but to communicate. That served us well. And in 10 months time, we’ll wave good-bye to public education.

What interests me, though, is how we will view public education once we no longer benefit directly. It’s not unusual for a person’s interests to change over time. Mental health issues aren’t important to many of us until we have a family member who needs services. Senior issues suddenly become important to us when we get that first AARP membership pitch.

Schools tend to be less important to us once our young ‘uns have gotten their diplomas.

I’m not sure that’s the right approach though. As parents get older and children head off to college or move out of their parents’ home there is suddenly more free time and a wealth of experience available to serve in volunteer capacities at schools. And what about things like school bonds? Should I vote against the next one because my children won’t ever sit in one of those new classrooms? Probably not – at least not for that reason.

In fact, though our children’s public school education will end soon, the needs for other people’s children will remain. And the ability of those children to impact my life 15, 20, 25 years down the road is as significant as any child who graduates in 2016. It’s in my best interest – and yours – if the children who graduate 10 or 20 years down the road are just as well-prepared as mine were.

We may be in the short rows in terms of our time as public school parents, but we are far from the end of our tenure as public school supporters.