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Tim Myers: The final word on eighth-grade promotions

Posted: April 30, 2010 5:56 p.m.
Updated: May 2, 2010 4:55 a.m.
In spring 2007, I proposed — and even offered — to write a special feature for The Signal’s sports section. I found it an interesting “man bites dog” story, that all the seniors on the two-time league champion Valencia High School tennis team — save one — would matriculate that fall into top-20 national universities, turning on its head the “dumb jock” characterization generally associated with high school athletes.

Our mortified son, a member of that team, would point out that this probably reflects the demographic associated with all tennis teams in Southern California, if not nationally.

The Signal’s sports editor declined the offer (the William S. Hart Union High School District’s internal publication “What’s Good in Education” would run the story), pointing out to me that this really constituted a rather clear attempt for me to obtain recognition for our son, and actually to obtain recognition for his parents. (Which meant me, because my Nebraska bride eschews such frivolity.)

Objectively, I knew the wisdom of the sports editor.

So, I do not come to the debate regarding the cancellation of eighth-grade promotions with clean hands, because I stand directly guilty of attempting to promote my own ego, and thus must find it difficult to call out parents who seek to criticize this decision, since it impairs their ability to promote their own egos.

But during a difficult time, I must, to promote the civic morality we find necessary in the current budget crisis.

The arguments go like this: The decision made by Hart district administrators — and effectively affirmed by the school board — deprived the eighth-grade students of the celebration of their great “accomplishment” in completing eighth grade.

Parents complaining most stridently in the blogosphere related how their honor-student children will not receive the appropriate recognition, and this could stop their pursuit of academic excellence.

If they examined the situation honestly, these most vocal parents would realize that, for the vast majority of students and their families who will not receive these accolades and attention, the promotion ceremony becomes a frivolous chore on a hot afternoon, or hopefully cooler evening, in the Santa Clarita Valley — contending with parking and the crowd at the promotion venue, almost in thrall to the parents of the high achievers and hoping their child does not engage in some aberrant behavior that will embarrass the family.

An unscientific examination of Internet chatter regarding the private arrangement of promotion ceremonies involves, almost exclusively, the parents of high achievers deprived of their moment of glory before a captive, public-provided audience.

Many of the debaters talk about the issue of cost and parent funding of the event. The amount of the cost, in my opinion, does not constitute the critical issue, but rather the potential of spending any public money on something frivolous and for the benefit of the few.

Difficult decisions will come in the ensuing months, and one can see the most likely tableau for the Hart district playing out in the chaos now surrounding the San Juan Capistrano Unified School District.

That 52,000-student district bears much in common with the Hart district, and last week saw the culmination of actions taken by its board to balance its books — primarily with an across the board unilateral 10-percent pay cut — with a strike by teachers, and an accompanying sympathy strike by parents keeping their children out of school and depriving Capo Unified of dear state education per diem funding.

Some schools throughout the district reported actual attendance falling below 50 percent of normal levels, and in dramatic fashion nearly all the students at one high school walked out at the first break to protest the poor quality of the substitutes brought in to replace the striking teachers.

How does this relate to the Hart district’s cancellation of eighth-grade promotions?

In order to possess the requisite civic morality to make the hard and difficult decisions needed to balance the school budget over the coming two years, the Hart board and administration must first eschew all frivolous expenditures, and unfortunately, eighth-grade promotions fall clearly into that category.

They must call upon the employees of the district to make substantial financial sacrifices, which they will more likely absorb if they first see that the district first eliminated all frivolity.

Otherwise, look to the Capo Unified district for a preview of the drama that will occur in the Hart district in the next six to eight months.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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