Estherville Lincoln Central superintendent Tara Paul, activities director and assistant principal Brad Leonard and Estherville businessperson Krystie Brashear, representing The Blueberry Partnership, told Estherville Rotarians Thursday how they want to make education relevant and accountable to employers' needs in the 21st century.
The local version of The Blueberry Partnership is based on the story of a teacher who questioned former entrepreneur Jamie Vollmer's assertion, "If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn't be in business very long."
When the teacher asked Vollmer what he did with inferior blueberries in his ice cream manufacturing process, Vollmer said, "I send them back."
Unfortunately, the teacher said, students could never be sent back.
"We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's school."
That epiphany led Vollmer to reevaluate his thinking and to write the book. Schools Cannot Do It Alone.
The Blueberry Partnership's goals and intent are excellent. They solicited Rotarians' opinions and recommendations, just as they have throughout Estherville. And Paul assured everyone those recommendations would be taken into consideration as the district studies its goals in preparing students for the world of work.
This approach is exactly how things should be done. Unfortunately, there's the reality of interference by federal and state education officials that could stop this noble effort dead in its tracks. Yes, they are the ones treating education like a business, demanding test scores from students who have the same disadvantages cited by the teacher who confronted Vollmer.
For years, schools have struggled with No Child Left Behind, something that has left many educators feeling that what was really left behind was real meaningful interaction between teacher and student.
And right now, ELC is struggling to find a way to come up with another 36 hours a week for teacher collaborative time. Teachers and parents are concerned - rightfully - that the result could be more latchkey children or even parents who refuse to send their kids to school on early out days.
Educational mandates from above never work - and they never did. Real, meaningful educational reform and change takes place in the classroom, not in some ivory tower where educational theorists - many who have never set foot in the classroom - try to tell veteran teachers they're not doing their jobs right.
Estherville teachers know far better how to prepare their students for careers in Estherville and beyond than some politician in Des Moines or Washington, D.C.
We need to elect people to state and federal office who believe in local control of education and who are willing to put that belief into practice.
And then we need to put their feet to the fire, and keep track of their voting record. And then we need to vote them out of office if they don't keep their word.
And let's start right now.