Every time I hear about school closures in Indian Valley I want to buy folks in Sacramento topographical maps of Plumas County. Yes, we have a tiny county of 20,000 people. Yes, it seems ridiculous that a small geographical area should have so many schools but geez, guys, a simple topographical map would indicate why this is so. Our smallness is only as the crow flies, not drives.
And so again, for at least the third time since my family moved here in 2002, there is talk — amplified this time — about school closure. What if we as citizens of Indian Valley just refused that to be an option? What if we came up with our own option?
Every time I drive over the grade on Highway 89 in winter I think of the 1997 Atom Egoyan film “The Sweet Hereafter” where a tiny town’s entire population of children dies in a freak accident when a school bus slips on ice in winter. Sure, it’s fiction, but it’s what all of us think about when we hear the idea of busing children to Chester in winter — and we know winter in Chester can last half a year. The district seems to be asking Indian Valley residents to suffer this anxiety and be helpless to stop it for the duration of their lives in Indian Valley. That’s just not acceptable.
But here is what is acceptable. One K – 12 in Indian Valley. Clearly, that is the will of the majority of the people here in Indian Valley if the status quo is no longer viable.
How do we do this? How do we offer quality education on par with the rest of the state and nation that prepares our children to be competitive in the global marketplace? We need to take charge of our community from a point of strength and offense. Too long have we been on defense and that just leads us down a road of negativity.
If we take stock of what we do best, and acknowledge what has not worked for us we will be on the path to a better education system for our valley. What do we do best? We are an involved community. We know the kids. They know us. We have an exceptional amount of talent here and we live in the arguably most beautiful part of the county.
What do we not do best? Roughly a third of our school-age kids if not more do not attend the public schools either now or ever. We haven’t bothered to ask home-schoolers and private-schoolers why this is. What would it take for a school to meet the needs of all of the valley’s children? We haven’t acknowledged our faults that have led to some of our more embarrassing issues of public education, chiefly: systemic race issues, grade inflation and a good old-fashioned lack of gumption on the part of some students and families (not all by any means).
We have been serving the middle in public education in Indian Valley, but we offer much, much less to those that need help the most and those that achieve the most. Imagine a K – 12 in Indian Valley that could serve the needs of students seeking/needing the typical experience, the alternative experience, the special needs experience and the gifted experience.
The negative reality: We have a broke state, dwindling tax income for the area, expensive teachers of retirement age not retiring, teachers that do not challenge our students to rise to challenges, students uninterested in achievement, a suicide epidemic, a high teen pregnancy rate per capita, rampant drug and alcohol use.
The positive reality: We have a caring, talented, close-knit citizenry, some promising students, some very nice and sweet students, ample space for a K – 12 school. We have a few outstanding teachers that do challenge their students and encourage them to do their best.
Solution: One public K – 12 educational program in Indian Valley.
How do we get here?
1) Implement technology better. There’s no reason every child in the valley shouldn’t have complete computer access. AP classes could be delivered online via teleconferencing, k12.com or other such technologies. Technology has much improved since the district first settled on its current programs of delivery.
2) Encourage more collaboration with Feather River College. Let’s let them know what we need here and bring the instructors to us! It can be done even in times of financial crisis if there is enough enrollment for a course. Encourage high school students to get their feet wet taking classes at the college.
3) Tap into local knowledge. The people in this valley are more than equipped to lend expertise in vocational and professional programs. We can make this happen if given the chance.
4) Utilize true, non-biased assessment of our students. Too often grade inflation has occurred in the district. Have all teachers adhere to a basic rubric of 90 – 100 an A and on down. How are we to know where we are failing if we don’t assess equitably? Often students without computers at home do poorly on computerized tests. Students have regular eye and hearing exams to catch problems. Stop penalizing students in dysfunctional family situations for not having the peace and quiet at home to read in the evening and encourage it in the classroom instead. Acknowledge the need for recess, downtime. Acknowledge the intrinsic value of art, music, theater, curiosity and critical thinking in a student’s development.
5) Acknowledge the “ugly truth.” If students are passing some classes with A’s and can barely read or write while failing others that adhere to higher standards, there is a disconnection. We need to hold both students and teachers accountable to meet and respect the high bar, not the low bar.
6) Do a better job with emotional intelligence. Statistically students do not do well in school when there are problems in the household. We have many a broken family in this valley — not unlike the rest of the county. For some it’s poverty, for some it’s illiteracy and for some it’s drugs and alcohol or lack of any sort of structured home life. The very nature of these children’s lives already penalizes them and sets them apart from their more functioning peers. Let’s insist on a system for our valley that encourages mentorships, friendships and lifelines to these students. Busing our children out of here is not going to solve any of these issues.
7) Encourage exploration. We need field trips and connections to the outside world. Our children need to know what’s out there beyond the county. They need exposure to a variety of job prospects in their futures.
8) Establish true diversity. Finally — and perhaps most poignantly given our valley’s recent history — celebrate difference and keep minds and hearts open rather than attempting to shut down and bully difference. We need to let the square pegs know they don’t have to fit into round holes.
We must reform to survive — that much is clear. But reform should not mean abandonment.
Some of us were born to this valley for generations; others — like our family — adopted this valley as home because of its beauty, its friendliness, its quirkiness and that blessed feeling we got like we landed in a place like no other on the planet. We have a simple demand of the school district that would seek to destroy and devalue us: one K – 12 public institution in Indian Valley whose mission will be to educate all its children in a fair, innovative, challenging and equitable environment.