By Chris Armstrong
I would like to respond to Jennifer Hemmingsen’s Oct. 27 column (“Some fat left in education system?”). The landscape of today’s public school varies drastically from what it was 20 years ago. Between state mandates and the increased need for student-specific associates for special needs students, it is easy to explain the 26 percent increase in non-instructional staff.
Over the last five years, legislation has been passed that mandated schools hire one counselor for every 335 students in grades k-12, a school nurse, and school librarian. This legislation dramatically increased the number of “nonteaching” staff in many districts. School districts needed to cover the $50,000 to $150,000 expense from their general fund — the same fund that is used for teacher expenses. Schools were forced to satisfy the mandate instead of hiring additional teaching staff.
The number of student-specific associates for special-needs students has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. With the exponential rise in students with autism and behavioral problems, individual education plans include a full-time associate assigned to one student. Our small rural district of 750 students has 13 student-specific associates. In 1992, our district employed none. In 1996 we had a total of five associates; now, 23.
In the age of continuous improvement, it is vital that each building has an excellent administrator. Today’s principals are instructional leaders who facilitate improvement through collaborative processes. Principals must partner with their teaching staff to create an enriched learning environment in which every student has an opportunity to reach his/her full potential.
This is in direct contrast to the environment of schools 20 years ago when it was believed certain children could learn and others could not. Schools that strive every day to ensure that all students succeed need a strong instructional leader on campus.
Teachers who have taught in a building without a full-time administrator can attest to how much more difficult it is to effectively function as a teacher.
Comparing the scores of a country that educates and tests all of its students with countries that only test their college-bound students is unfair at best. Our country’s educational system is still the best in the world. We are the only country that gives all children, no matter where they live or how much their families earns, free access to the entire spectrum of educational opportunities.
I believe the fat has been cut. I ask everyone to support and encourage teachers, administrators and school systems for all of their hard work and dedication.
Chris Armstrong is superintendent of Highland Community School District, based in Riverside. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org