If you have read any of my columns, you probably know that I am data-driven and look for trends and tendencies in the numbers. That probably stems from my accounting/economics degree and life-long vocation as a banker. However, if I have learned anything about life in my 42 years of being in business and a parent to seven, I know that statistics are not a great indicator of educational outcomes. One does not need an advanced degree to figure this out. Education is difficult, even for the most learned.
That being said, Bourbon County school districts rank fairly well statistically when compared to other SEK counties, especially in the area of pupil/teacher ratio: we are at 13.4 compared to a state-wide range of 9.0 to 26.3. Consistently, studies show that this is one of the top indicators of positive outcomes.
If a school rating system can be believed (I am not convinced), we are not so fortunate. Schooldigger.com ranks all 270 Kansas districts on various criteria, and rates them one star to five star, and puts them in ranking order. Uniontown ranked 155th, moving up 41 spots from the previous year, and achieved a 2-star rating. Fort Scott ranked 221st, moving up 16 spots, but only merited a 1 star. Whether or not these rating systems really mean anything may not occur to parents looking move to Bourbon County; they may only look at the number.
As it pertains to a community college, you may remember a previous column that references James Fallows’ 54,000-mile journey around the USA to learn why some small towns are succeeding where others are not. Having a vibrant community college was one of the consistent eleven factors he identified. Some complain about the additional tax burden, but I believe the college is a major positive in Bourbon County.
Most importantly, study after study shows that there is no more relevant factor to drive student achievement than parental involvement; it is not even close. None of us can or should go into every home in Bourbon County to make sure children are ready and motivated to learn. We all know that some children do not show up to school prepared (or even interested) to learn. We can’t expect a school district to fill in all parental gaps, no matter how well-funded they are, or how many advanced degrees their teachers possess.
What can we do? If Bourbon County is your home, consider that the schools are partly your responsibility. It does not matter if you are an empty-nester like me or never had children, the schools of the county, public and private, belong to all of us. Consider how you can get involved in our schools and community college to be a resource. Use the time, talent, and treasure God gave you to continue to invest in education. Don’t wait till they organize a program to suit you. Take the initiative in collaboration with the boards, administrations, and teachers, and let us all commit to this important economic development factor, education.