A suburban public school in 2018 is part of an education infrastructure and culture vastly different than in times past. Our view of public education in U.S. suburbs is often characterized by what we think of as the suburban America we saw on television in the 1950s.
Talisa Dixon, Ed.D.
Superintendent, Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District
Kelly Wessel, Ph.D.
Director of Professional Learning for Blue Valley School District
Richard Shirley, M.Ed.
Superintendent, Sumter County, Florida Schools
Steven Yanni, Ed.D.
Superintendent, Upper Dublin School District
From 2000 to 2016, the percentage of white Americans living in the suburbs declined from 76 to 68 percent.
During that same period, the white population similarly declined in urban areas from 51 to 44 percent and in rural geographies from 82 to 79 percent.
How are you working to convey new challenges in your district to the whole of your community?
It is easier for us to recognize what poverty means to a community if we speak of Appalachia or the South Bronx than it is to reconcile these new challenges to communities Americans have long considered aspirational.
That is particularly true when it comes to funding and recognizing funding and other disparities in the same suburban community. Bringing equity and opportunity to all the schools in a suburban district is something suburban educators see as a defining challenge as to how districts should be measured.
Steven Yanni, Ed.D., is the new superintendent of the Upper Dublin School District in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and was formerly the superintendent of the New Hope-Solebury District in neighboring Bucks County. To the non-resident, a drive through either district would leave one unaware that inequity is a factor.
“We’ve been very intentional about designing professional learning experiences, creating resources and trying to be proactive about acknowledging that all of us carry with us certain beliefs and biases that have just been ingrained, or that we choose to hang on to. Those beliefs and biases really need to be left at the door. We have some very passionate educators committed to this work. We have an advisory board that includes school board members, patrons, community members and organizations like the Interfaith Council and the Jewish Community Center.”
“If we are able to take two kindergarten children with different backgrounds, you see the difference. One child has been read to since birth. One has been on vacation, had cultural experiences. Sees his or her parents read. The other student doesn’t have a book or magazine in the house. There is no daily newspaper and what the child watches on TV is not educational. They may start school the same day, but they are not at the same point,” Shirley said. Rebalancing opportunities takes dollars that are increasingly hard to come by.
Those dollars are hard to come by in communities where the majority of residents are parents or soon-to-be parents. The aging of the suburbs means that there are communities with residents without children or grandchildren and an understandable aversion to new school taxes. The good news is that demographics do not determine destiny. Still, districts need to work at communicating the value of education to the whole of the community, including seniors.
Districts have tried to woo seniors with free admission to sporting events, access to facilities, after hours learning opportunities and other benefits.