Guest Column (6/11/09)

Our school system

June 11, 2009

By Anne Davie

Parents of present and future Williston students, fear not! Your children are in good hands. Excellent hands!

We have excellent teachers. I cannot count the number of teachers I have met outside the Williston School District who would love to work in our schools (if only they could get hired). Proof speaks louder than words. Historically, when there is a job opening for a teaching position in the Williston School District, there is anything but a lack of applicants. Does that not say a lot? I awe at the diligence, the love and support our students are given by Williston teachers and staff. I marvel at the magic workings of the house system. Every time I see an older student working with a younger student, I smile, knowing the wonderful benefits each of these students is getting from this unique relationship. I am a true advocate of our present house system.

No system is perfect. Be it government, school, church or family, every system has its strengths to improve on and weaknesses to tweak. I am speaking as a mother of three children in the Williston School District (presently in seventh grade, second grade and preschool). I am also speaking as someone who has substituted in the Williston school system for the past two school years. I substitute in our children’s schools almost every day as a teacher, general paraeducater and one-on-one paraeducater. This means I am there with and without the teacher present. This means I have a front row seat. I write not from assumptions, but from firsthand experience.

I must admit, prior to having any children in the Williston school system, I was biased toward our schools. During a school psychology internship, my supervisor spoke highly of our school system as unique, as a model for others. He was not speaking from assumptions. He was speaking as a seasoned school psychologist.

Prior to substituting, I volunteered regularly in the classroom and participated in our Four Winds Nature Program. I have been there for the past seven years.

I realize there is a small group of parents unhappy with our school system. I have been charged with the assumption that my children were placed in the “right” houses; therefore, all has been well. I have been asked, “If your children had been placed in other houses, would you be as satisfied?”

After substituting for two years, in every house, I can honestly say, “Yes!” With the present house structure and staff, I would feel confident. I would not worry. I see strength in all the houses and I see that the houses are more alike than different.

The houses have subtle differences because each teacher has his or her own personality. We find this in every school system. Teachers are individuals and bring their individual personalities to the classroom. Some are more strict, academic, to-the-point. Others are more lenient, open-ended and use humor as a disciplinary tool. As a substitute, I know what to expect in individual classrooms. For example, if I am going into classroom X, I can expect the class to be fairly quiet and attentive during morning meeting. If I am going into classroom Y, well … more spirited. As to my own children, they would do just fine wherever they landed, because the most important commonality I see among the houses and the teachers is caring and dedication.

My children are each individuals. My oldest has always been advanced, yet sensitive. The Williston School District gave him enrichment classes, and a teacher sensitive to his emotional needs. My second child struggles more academically. The district gave her one-on-one support that has helped her meet the standards and beyond. I did not have to request these services — the teachers saw the needs.

If I could wave a magic wand, what would I change or add? I would add the ability for teachers to observe each other in action. What better way to improve oneself than by learning from our peers? As parents we do this: Observing other parents in action and having productive dialogue. We can walk away with new ideas, new insights, new confidence or maybe a lack of confidence. In any case, we walk away with a broader picture and can choose to improve on our strengths and recognize our weaknesses … or simply walk away patting ourselves on the back for a job well done.

So, parents of present and future Williston students, rest assured. In my opinion, your children are in good hands, whichever house they land in.

Anne Davie is a Williston resident. She is a mother of three, and frequently works as a substitute in the Williston School District.