What Are Our Children Worth?

I coached Kindergarten through second grade soccer at Hyde Park Elementary school this past autumn. The K-2 team, however, didn’t have any uniforms, but I wasn’t about to send my kids out on the field against our neighboring towns without some semblance of a uniform. With the help of Hyde Park’s PE teacher, Mr. Clough, we outfitted our youngsters, and the kids loved having matching “uniforms” with their school name across their chests: Hyde Park Allstars.

The reason I pushed to have them wear something was simple. School spirit. Pride, not only in their school, but in themselves. This was their first experience in a game and on a field playing together as a team. As a coach, and in good conscience, I couldn’t send them out on the field without a uniform. What would that have told them? That they weren’t really a soccer team? The older kids can have uniforms, but not you? That they weren’t worth having a uniform? We didn’t value them enough to buy them shirts? How could they take pride in themselves and each other as a team if we didn’t even think them worthy of uniforms?

As this debate over the building project for the Hyde Park Elementary School heats up, it reminds me of my team. Setting aside the facts that the current building is dangerous to our children. That the building is literally crumbling, erupting, and burning around them. That the conditions are so poor that it is no longer conducive to learning. That the facility cannot hold the number of students and staff currently, and our population is projected to grow for the foreseeable future. Putting aside all these reasons as to why a renovation and improved space is desperately needed and setting aside the fact that the town has been kicking this can down the road since they refused to build the 1951 wing appropriately and to last by using suitable materials and hiring professional contractors. Besides all of these reasons, the one I keep coming back to is, “what does it tell our children, all of our children of Hyde Park now and in the future, that we think of them?”

Let me tell you what it says.

It says, “We value an extra $600 or $1200 dollars a year more than your safety and well being.” It says, “We value the cost of a large pepperoni pizza a week more than you having a learning environment with functioning heat during the Vermont winters.” It says, “We value money, any amount of money, over your well being and education.”

That’s what it says. Try and spin it how ever you like, but as this debate unfolds the argument against building a school that is safe and as conducive to learning as we can possibly make, comes down to how much money people are willing to part with. How little can we spend and get away with? What’s the least we can do for our town’s students? That’s what I am hearing.

The school structure is a shambles because the town of Hyde Park continues to put their wallets before their children. When I was growing up, my parents did everything in their power to make sure that I had the best education and opportunities available to me. They have spent their whole lives to make sure I, my brothers, and their grandchildren have a better than life than they did. My grandparents did the same for my parents. Without hesitation or a second thought.

I ask you, the citizens of Hyde Park, are you doing everything you can for your children? For the children in the school now, or who will pass through it over the course of the next century? My children may never get the use of a new facility, but it is my duty – and privilege – to help make sure that the children of this town have the best education and opportunities I can make available to them. I am proud to contribute to building a school the town and its residents can be proud of for the next century. It’s what my parents did for me, what my grandparents did for them, and what we all should be doing now for these children.

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About markfreeman

This blog is the result of when a geek and dad has a penchant for writing.
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2 Responses to What Are Our Children Worth?

  1. Eric smith says:

    I really think you really need to think before you speak. Hyde park tax payers cannot and will not build a new school because the state says it’s ok unless they get a new fire alarm that’s the big issue here, mark. Not to mention the fact that hyde park Elementary has been below standard educationally for the last 15 years and state records show that. Do your research before you speak. Maybe if this school could prove to it community it’s doing it job the town would think differently about a new school. But when you can’t educate because of poor administration and staff why build to hide that. It’s not that parents are worried about how much to spend their kids it’s what they can afford for their and to some actually many of Hyde Parks residents they cannot provide a new school. Many are working two to three jobs to even feed their kids Mark. This is a poor town because we keep giving to a school that doesn’t preform. That is the main reason. If your not happy with this town how the true Hyde Parkians feel the move out and go back to where you came from, maybe then your kids will have everything they need educationally. If the building is so bad mark move your kids to the Bishop Marshell school, or maybe Morrisville seems how you live Garfeild.

    • markfreeman says:

      Thanks for the note, Eric.

      First off, I do know the school and the town very well. I actually was a school director for three years and have stepped in to help out when they’ve needed to fill interim positions. I not only understand the struggles of school budgeting and finances, but I’ve seen how hard the teachers work and what the kids overcome every day.

      As for the Performance of the school, all schools in Vermont are currently failing. Under No Child Left Behind, every single Vermont school – that has not received a waiver – is currently below standard and considered a failing school. It’s not because the schools and teachers are not working tirelessly for their students, but because NCLB was a poorly conceived program that was never funded.

      As for Hyde Park’s performance, if you have attended any of the last three to four Town Meetings, you will have seen that HPES continues to raise their test scores (which I actually believe is a very poor method for measuring student success, but it’s what some folks use as system of comparison) each year, making some pretty impressive gains in this last year. You will also have noted the significant amount of professional development that our staff and administration have been completing – so they can be better teachers and better serve our children. If you have been witness to any of this, you might feel differently about the school’s performance. Needless to say, HPES is moving in the right direction under new leadership and a strong core group of educators.

      To address your concerns about cost, first we need to realize that this is not a vote of all or nothing. The school has significant repairs that amount to between $10-12 million dollars. This is because the town has passed in the past on repairing it. If we had repaired it ten years ago, there were matching grants to assist us. Because the town passed on repairs and improvements then, we no longer have those matching funds. Costs won’t go down, this I guarantee. Secondly, just patching the school won’t fix the need for more space. The school is overcrowded, and the population of Lamoille County and Hyde Park continues to grow. To address the need for more space raises the price to $15 million. However, if we’re going to spend that much, why not make a school that is conducive to learning? The difference, per month for a $200,000 dollar home, is $3 when raising the cost from $15 Million to $18.3 million. The financial details are available, if you care to look into it.

      No school is perfect, and HPES has room for improvement. I agree. We all have room for improvement. That’s life. It’s why we need to look to effect positive change whenever and wherever we can.

      As for pulling my kids or moving? I won’t. I won’t let my kids down, or any of the kids of my town for that matter. I never said the increased taxes wouldn’t hurt, or make things tighter than they already are, I just believe that the education and safety of all the children of Hyde Park – not just mine – is worth it.

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