School's in! Please drive carefully


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  "This is a year that calls for educational stamina and cooperative effort. This is a year that calls for united action and a reduction of internal conflict."


tudents and teachers have returned to school in the Pajaro Valley. Our students and school staff members face a myriad of challenges and deserve careful handling.

As they return, there is enthusiasm, joy, high hopes and expectations. Fresh faced, and with minds rejuvenated by summer, eager learners and teachers come together to make our dream of a better future a reality. Some have spent the summer catching up on needed academic study. Both summer school and teacher workshops have been interspersed with rest and relaxation. Once again we are ready for action.

As the year progresses, many will face barriers that seem insurmountable. We can help. We can provide community support that comes from understanding these difficulties and we can provide encouragement needed to face challenges with confidence. Sailing through the '05-'06 school year will not be a piece a cake.

We are facing the grim possibility of even further funding reductions with the upcoming special election. There are high standards for all students. There are high stakes tests including the California High School Exit Exam, the passing of which is required of seniors in order to graduate in June. There are the threats of No Child Left Behind sanctions applied to our schools. There are threats of violence, gangs and drug cultures through which some will wade. There will be conflicts and defeats sprinkled in with the triumphs and victories. This is a year that calls for educational stamina and cooperative effort. This is a year that calls for united action and a reduction of internal conflict.

In the context of all of these challenges and concerns, there is at least one issue that has been resolved in a creative, positive way. Right now parents are completing and returning the new emergency cards for all students. These cards contain vital, personal information about each student. A new statement now appears on high school students' cards regarding the option of keeping that information confidential, specifically from military recruiters.

Many accusations have been hurled about regarding the intent of those who promoted this statement's inclusion on the emergency cards. I have been one of the victims of such accusations. We have had our motives questioned and our integrity besmirched. I have not made a public response to these accusations until now, but I can not allow these to stand unanswered.

My involvement in this move was not generated by anti-military beliefs, but rather by NCBL requirements and community complaints. Frankly, I was surprised and stunned that this newspaper speculated and expressed its opinion about the "true reasons for voting for this policy", labeling the board's action as "making a political statement against the military." Does the Pajaronian have a crystal ball?

No one can know what is in a person's heart that prompts a particular action. While I have openly shared my views about some military recruitment activities of which I clearly do not approve, I have never felt that my vote was an anti-military statement. Why would I veil this in a board action? If and when I wish to make an anti-military statement, it will be clear to all that I am doing so. Right now, I am concentrating on the public schools and making them as good and strong and safe as they can possibly be. That is my agenda!

While some have attempted to distort reality and turned this positive action into a brouhaha, I simply have no regrets about the clear communication that is now in effect.

On the state level, California voters can look forward to November when we will get to express ourselves again in the voting booth. I have my number two pencil sharpened. It is one of the tools with which I will support public education.

Next month, barring unforeseen changes, I will write about the ballot measures that affect schools. I will paint for you a picture of what has been happening with school funding over the last 50 years. There is to be nothing on the ballot that will remedy the funding inequities and inadequacies, but there is one proposition that must be defeated in order to stop the bleeding of our woefully under-funded public schools. That is Proposition 76.

There are no simplistic solutions to the challenges that face our students and our school staff members. An ounce of understanding of these challenges may go a long way, enabling educators and students to be successful and proud as they pursue real solutions to complex dilemmas.

Sandra Nichols is a trustee and past president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,700 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with the Santa Cruz City School District, and a former commissioner on the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication, or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2005