Cape Issues is a group of county residents who gather regularly to focus on issues they see as vital to the future of the county. One of those issues is the county’s public education system.
We at Cape Issues appreciate and applaud the hard work of local teachers, administrators, and parents who are engaged in providing educational opportunities for the county’s youth. That is especially true in this time of crisis.
The abrupt closure of schools, the hurriedly planned use of remote instruction, and the anxiety over future directions and funding have placed enormous challenges in the path of an already difficult task. Teachers, parents, educational leaders, and students have taken on the challenges admirably.
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis has increased collaboration, shared services and skills, and parental involvement. The circumstances have also created hardship, making it difficult to assess the achievement of expected educational goals.
Where we are in terms of educational progress, what we may need to do to regain some lost ground, and the development of future educational plans/contingencies are now front and center to consider.
Funding constraints are also almost certain to follow in the wake of the pandemic. These would come on top of state funding declines already planned before the virus made its appearance and need to be seriously considered as part of a realistic discussion of educational initiatives.
While some might argue that this is not the time to suggest new goals or initiatives, not an appropriate point for retrospection on what we can do better or how limited resources may be applied in alternative ways; we posit that the current crisis offers an opportunity for a focused public discussion on where we go from here as a public education community in Cape May County.
We see two overarching goals for our system of public education. The first is to provide our young people with the knowledge and tools needed for success in careers, lifetime learning, and civic engagement. The second goal is furthering the education of our youth in ways that highlight in-county career opportunities.
While few would argue with the first goal, the second is less often discussed, even though it is fundamental to the organization of education across the county. Local leadership has long been a cornerstone of public education. Although federal and state policies have eroded the independence of local school boards, dilated local leadership can still affect positive change.
Throughout our discussions of the myriad issues facing our education system, key areas of concern repeatedly surface.
- We are concerned about post-high school/college educational readiness for those who seek to pursue post-secondary education. Is our county too isolated from post-secondary opportunities? Are there ways to increase linkages that provide new pathways for students? Can we improve the preparation of students in ways that give them firmer ground to stand on as they begin post-secondary/ college learning opportunities?
- In a national environment that daily promotes the value of college, the emphasis on career readiness may suffer. How do we improve the opportunities for success for students who do not seek a traditional post-secondary pathway? How do we provide greater career preparation involving internships and apprenticeships, as well as workforce education opportunities aimed at success in Cape May County? How do we improve the links between economic development strategies and educational programs, as well as an explicit focus on preparation for county employment opportunities?
- We statistically face a future of declining public school enrollments and lower state educational funding. Can we engage in a public discussion of alternative structures for education in the county? Is the best road to the future one that includes 19 separate school districts and over 30 individual schools? Is a fresh look at how our county’s public educational system is organized and supported needed? Is some form of consolidation a decisive path forward for the county that would have a positive impact on educating our youth?
As we survey the county’s education landscape, we see the hard work of dedicated educators. We also see declining enrollments, increasing school tax rates, a likely decrease in state school funding, and a need for investment in new programs and opportunities.
With those concerns in mind, Cape Issues seeks a dialog and invites public comment. Comments can be sent to CapeIssues@cmcherald.com.