Originally Published in the Newton Kansan, July 2017
Do you feel it? There’s something in the air! Yes, it’s hot, but that’s not it. It’s not the weather or pollutants or even moisture. It’s excitement - a feeling that something good is about to happen. It’s as if the community is poised to embrace a new positive outlook. Can you feel it?
It is seemingly everywhere I go these days. There’s talk of the great things that are happening in Newton and nearby communities. There are dreams being shared that are inspiring and engaging – creating a sense of urgency for action. It is an amazing and wonderful time to be a resident of Newton. What are we waiting for?
Being an educator for longer than I have been anything except a wife and mother, I am excited about the changes in the air at the state level. Through the direction of the State Board of Education and the leadership of Education Commissioner, Dr. Randy Watson, there are dreams of redesigning schools and education to better meet the needs of students, to provide more personalized learning, and to embrace the benefits of industry level certifications for high school graduates. “Kansans Can” create an educational system that leads the world!
I attended the hearing in the Kansas Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of SB19, which includes the Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act. While there are differences of opinion about whether or not school districts should engage in legal actions to address concerns over the constitutionality of school finance laws, it was an experience to watch our legal system in action. The Justices asked pointed questions of the attorneys to determine how the newly crafted school finance law addresses the inequities and inadequacies in the previously ruled unconstitutional system. The Justices focused questions on the differences the funding amounts from what the Legislature approved and the Governor signed and the recommendations of studies and the State Board of Education. Will the new law provide for all Kansas students to meet or exceed the Rose Standards? How will it address the academic and social emotional aspects of education for our neediest students? These are factors that the Justices are now deliberating. The Justices and attorneys seemed to agree that money matters in the educational outcomes for students. I would agree.
How does this relate to how this article started? What about the school finance formula relates to exciting things happening? Well, the short answer is that for the first time in approximately nine years, the school district will experience an influx of new dollars – in the amount of approximately $1.1 million dollars. These dollars will directly impact students and their classrooms. And, for the first time in as many years, the district is not discussing what can we cut from the budget. Instead, the conversation is around: what can we provide to help support students and teachers? How will our decisions impact relationships and responsive culture? How will we prioritize among the list of needs and enhancements that we would like to address?
If you are feeling the excitement in the air, I encourage you to get involved. It is up to us, the citizens of Newton, to be the change we want to see. It is up to us to embrace inspiring and engaging dreams. It is up to us to recognize the great things that happen every day all around us. Sometimes, it is hard and we really have to be aware, to look, to observe and engage, and respond positively to the good things around us.
If you aren’t feeling it, if you are somehow not convinced this is a great place to be with the potential to be more, then consider looking more closely. Rather than complain about what isn’t right about our community, our schools, or our churches, get involved. Be a force for the good things that you want to have happen in our community - because it is our community. We have a responsibility to come together and promote what it important to us and create the place we want to be! The place where others will want to be!
This will take work and commitment. It will not happen over night. We may become frustrated with the slowness of progress. Margaret Mead stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I believe this to be an absolute truth and that we can make a difference.
Kansans Can and Newtonians Can! Join in on the excitement! Believe in the dream!