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Ignite the fire

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Standing in a student's shoes: The problem with MCPS

By Hannah Wilson
MCHS Class of 2013

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Unless the first line of the vision statement is a joke, Marion County Public Schools have a long, hard road to hoe ahead.  
Superintendent Taylora Schlosser stated in her webcast on the district website on June 5 that she, along with the faculty and staff of MCPS, plans to do whatever possible to “ensure that every child that graduates from Marion County career ready.” (We’ll assume she means “college and/or career ready,” as the vision statement declares.) Problem one: there has to be a stable faculty and staff on the payroll before anyone can work toward this goal.
I am a recent graduate (May 2013) of Marion County High and current sophomore McConnell Scholar at the University of Louisville – perhaps the most accurate case study of the effects of the Marion County Public School system on its most important product: the students. As such, I can assure the public that few programs, extracurricular activities, core curriculum guidelines, service opportunities, and assemblies actually did anything to prepare me for college. Training a toddler on a teeter-totter will not help him or her juggle knives while riding a unicycle on a tight rope that is stretched across a lava pit. Perhaps that is an excessive comparison of primary to secondary education, but you get the point.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I scoured the academic horizon and found teachers who challenged my critical thinking and people skills – both crucial pieces to the puzzle of a successful college and life experience. My life mentors as well as a few outstanding members of the community introduced me to the rigorous and prestigious programs I now participate in at the University of Louisville, which pose the same challenges to my character as did those rare treasures I found in K-12.  
Unfortunately, many of my fellow MCHS graduates did not get the same opportunities. A mere 51.6 percent of students from the class of 2013 attended a four-year college or university. Out of the 48.4 percent remaining, I’m not sure how many of those were truly “career ready.”   
If this were a horse race, I wouldn’t put my money on MCPS.  
I recently attended an awards ceremony in Trigg County to present merit scholarships to UofL to several graduating seniors. I was astounded at the amount of money that was awarded in that two-hour period. The county Rotary Club alone distributed more than $365,000. At another awards ceremony in Muhlenberg County I saw more massive scholarships awarded to seniors. I witnessed even some of the lowest performing schools in Jefferson County out-perform Marion County in terms of monies given to graduates.  
Our current problem seems to originate with an irresponsible and unqualified administration. Since no change in that department is foreseeably happening anytime soon, I pose a challenge to the people of this county to take matters into their own hands.  
To the administration: Review the vision and mission statements. Is your day-to-day course of action seeking to ensure the carrying out of these statements? They are mere words until someone breathes life into them. This is what you were elected to accomplish.  
To members of the community: College tuition rates are increasing by the second, thanks to the budget proposed by Governor Steve Beshear. There are no foreseeable plans to make higher education affordable for Kentucky students, forcing them to increasingly rely on their communities to assist in paying for school. When I travel I’m happy to say I come from the home of Maker’s Mark and the Turtleman, the quintessential example of small-town USA. I can think of no better offset to poor leadership than a close-knit community like ours.  
I challenge the people of this county to act as mentors to our students.  Coordinate silent auctions to raise money for scholarships so that our graduates don’t quit after a year because they can’t afford food, much less tuition. Find a kid that needs you, and make an impact on them. Do something. Be active. The power is in your hands to change the landscape of this entire county.  
To the parents: Your tax dollars are going towards landscaping and laminating machines. I graduated last year with 216 students, some of which could barely calculate simple math problems. Recently, many of you have attended board meetings and open forums to voice your concerns about the changes in the system and the quality of education your child is receiving. Keep it up. The more voices, the louder the message is heard.
Lastly, I challenge the students. Your high school education will greatly affect the decisions you make for the rest of your life. Your experiences during those short four years can be some of the most rewarding, or most detrimental to your academic and otherwise careers. Demand a quality educational experience from the administration, the community, your families, and your peers.  You don’t have the power of the purse, nor can you hire or fire faculty and staff. But you can tell your story. Don’t let it go unheard.
Superintendent Schlosser, in the aforementioned webcast, applauded Marion County High for having a nearly perfect attendance rate on the last day of school, which apparently qualifies Marion County to have “completed [its] World Series for school.” She stated, “It was so exciting to know that we spent every day focused on students, instruction, and professional growth.”  
When students are graduating truly college and career ready, have the funds necessary to attend school, and are assured of the community’s interest in their education, Marion County Public Schools will have completed its educational World Series. Until then, I’ll leave you with the words of Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”  
Ignite the fire.