Schools and community: The disconnect needs to be healed

By Cookie Newsom

Back in the day when I taught in the Xenia schools, things were different, quite different. As there seemed to be more actual community then, there also seemed to be more of a community feel to the schools. Part of the reason for that was most of the teachers lived in the district and had, or had had children in the schools.

It helped build community and is one of the reasons I am still in frequent contact with students I had more than 30 years ago. One of them told me a couple of days ago that it feels like in many ways we are an extended family.

I am certain the idea of being told where to live is an unpopular one, but I am willing to bet that many of the woes of public schools would be cured if teachers lived where they taught. The urgency to get back to hearth and home and family is a strong one, particularly if you have children needing to be parented. If you live close it takes a lot of the pressure off. You are much more likely to attend or coach extra-curricular activities.

When I was teaching in Xenia I coached something all the time, cheerleaders, drill team, etc. Two of the other teachers Ms. Duff (English) and Mrs. Fisher (Math) and I (French and history) ran the chains for the freshmen football games, my husband was the announcer. Other teachers and I chaperoned dances and advised clubs because we were friends, facilitated by the lack of urgency to get out of town, and did not mind spending time after school together. I still go to high school events, by my count there are very few currently working teachers there, I think we retired dinosaurs outnumber them at most events. Folks notice.

When the parents know you there are no discipline problems. They know they can trust you and act accordingly when the child comes home with a complaint, they have your back.

Even disregarding the advantages for both teachers and students of having a community, what about the attitudes towards the schools which impact things like funding? You are much more likely to pass a levy if people know and trust the people educating their kids.

Some districts have the excuse that housing is too expensive for a teacher’s salary. That is true and a topic for another day, but Xenia is not in that category. I am not suggesting having a rule you have to live in Xenia in order to get a teaching job here, but I am suggesting our folks who hire kind of look at those resumes with a bit of a preference for those who do.

Drop-in teachers, administrators and staff do not always have their hearts centered on the community where they are working. No doubt many do, but if they are not interacting with parents and other community members outside of the regular school day it is an impediment to building community.

The teachers in my day organized activities that included parents. When they told me there was no money to paint my classroom I recruited parents. It took off, we had so many parent volunteers we painted every classroom on the first floor of Warner. The paint was donated by local businesses and KFC donated lunch for all of the faculty, staff, students and their parents.

In our quest to reform public education let us look towards building community once more, we can recreate that extended family feel if we work at it.

By Cookie Newsom

Dr. Cookie Newsom is a retired teacher-professor. Contact her with comments at [email protected]

Dr. Cookie Newsom is a retired teacher-professor. Contact her with comments at [email protected]