Guest Spot: Education in 2013 and beyond

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Southold Union Free School District superintendent David Gamberg at a board of education meeting earlier this year.
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Southold Union Free School District superintendent David Gamberg at a board of education meeting earlier this year.

As we embark on the start of a new school year, educators must remain deeply committed to the vision of having our students further develop the skills, habits of mind and dispositions that will allow them to thrive both in and outside of school. Ultimately, we must be mindful of the core elements of our mission.

Nurturing a climate in each and every classroom, activity and moment with the caring adults of any school is a key ingredient to success. We must continue to impart the knowledge and inquiry into subject matter, as well as create a thirst for finding a place in the world that should be the hallmark of every quality school. All stakeholders should become part of the ongoing dialogue that allows us to work collaboratively toward realizing the mission and vision of each school district.

Preparations are well underway for the opening of school throughout the North Fork. I now find myself taking the time to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead. While doing so, I am mindful of what we must celebrate in terms of all that we should afford our students to learn and grow. Communities must steadfastly protect opportunities for students to discover more about themselves and the world around them in academics, the arts and extracurricular activities. These valuable experiences collectively educate the whole child.

It is no secret that during the past few years we have witnessed major challenges to the status quo in education and throughout our larger society. Within education, those who are charged with the responsibility of engaging students for an unknown future have been subjected to an untold number of calls to “change the way we do business.” The pressure to perform permeates throughout the schoolhouse, from 8- and 9-year-olds to the most veteran of educators.

There is no shortage of opinions as to the culprits that conspire to blame public education for the economic, political and social ills that we confront in a democratic society.

Horace Mann, considered the father of American education, famously said, “The public school is the greatest discovery made by man.” I still believe this to be true and now, more than ever, I work each day to strengthen the covenant between our schools and the community that we serve. To paraphrase Dr. Haim Ginott, no system or technology, however sophisticated it may be, can replace the enduring value of building rapport between a teacher and a child.

I do not feign progress, nor do I reject the use of powerful learning tools and protocols that have developed over many decades of research and study.   We must become learning organizations, flexible and dynamic places that aspire to uphold the values of our community and the integrity of the teaching profession. Yes, there are many competing views of how to accomplish this — a return to the good old days, a desire to change with the times, face a new reality or continue to hold out for a vision of what we have yet to realize.

At a time when powerful interests claim to have the formula for fixing what is wrong with public education from the tip of Long Island to the New York State border with Canada and every school community in between, I would submit that each locality has an obligation to chart its own course, mindful of seeking to discover the essential elements of a quality education. What works in one community may or may not work in another, so it is not simply a matter of creating a cookie-cutter approach in defining such qualities.

As we begin this school year we welcome kindergartners, or the class of 2026, and we move toward the final phase of a 13-year journey with our high school seniors. Challenges were, are and always will be a part of what is experienced in a given school year — whether by local or global events, changes in technology or any other factor that impacts our daily lives.

I look forward to the school year with a renewed determination to maintain the interests of our students, staff, families and communities as we look to the future while having a reverence for the rich heritage of the North Fork.

Mr. Gamberg is the superintendent of the Southold Union Free School District.

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