Gains Hawkins: We must build a Smart Community

I knew from the outset that the odds of my securing the District 3 open seat on the Wicomico County school board were unlikely.  The process wasn’t going to be a job interview, but rather a political appointment and the Republicans with a 4-3 majority had the votes. Council President John Cannon’s muddled management of that process made clear that local elected Republicans find public schools a burden they must endure, whereas Democrats view our public schools at a foundational investment in our future.

Gains Hawkins.

County Executive Bob Culver’s acquiesced to business leaders (Perdue, Peninsula Regional Medical Center) and grassroots pressure (Push4education) to provide the requested funding for the implementation of County School Superintendent Donna Hanlin and the Board of Education’s Imagine 2022 plan (universal pre-K, raise graduation rates and increase teacher salaries by 3 percent).  But as Push4education points out, “we have still not gotten back to pre-Recession levels of per pupil investment and are still second lowest in the state for county contributions.”

Democrats believe Wicomico’s future is dependent on an excellent public school system.  The AFL-CIO puts it well: “A strong public education system is essential to the individual and collective well-being of our country and its people, and to the development of an informed and engaged citizenry, without which no democracy can exist and flourish.  A strong, universal system of public education is the foundation of the American middle class, and is vital to the survival of the United States as a broadly middle class society in the global economy. The guarantee of access to a free and quality public education should be a right accorded to every child in this country.  Securing that guarantee should be a goal and a value that unites all Americans and is supported by our public policies and policymakers at every level.

“A public education system in all its component parts—pre-K, K-12 and higher education—can be strong, vital and productive only with the broad support, commitment and participation of all sectors of our communities.” 

21st century employers and entrepreneurs will move or stay in a community that places a premium on a first-rate public school system:  A Smart Community.

A Smart Community is more than a list of goals.  It’s a vision fully embraced by a community, the Wicomico community.  It envisions providing a 21st century education of the highest quality to provide the foundation for a life well lived, and offer a workforce with the requisite knowledge and learning skills to attract business and industry to Wicomico. It’s a community with the academic and vocational background necessary for work in the 21st century.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy added 11.6 million jobs through 2016.  11.5 million—or 99 percent—of those jobs went to workers with some college education, according to a study by Georgetown University.

To compete in the U.S. today, we need to be a Smart Community.

By raising community awareness of the importance of a superior public school system we need to explain why education is a bridge we can all cross, joining together in a shared commitment to a first-rate public school system, since its benefits positively impacts all of us, individually and collectively.

The most critical issue facing the Wicomico public school system is our community’s recognition of the importance of the reality and perception of a first-rate education for pre-K through 12th grade, and the willingness to dedicate the resources to achieve that vision.  Education investment is the indispensable building block for a forward thinking community. 

Achieving greatness in our public school system is only possible if it’s the will of the people.  Democrats fully embrace the transformation of Wicomico County into a Smart Community, with a premium placed on a superior public school system.  Republicans give it lip service, grudgingly.

I was at Salisbury State College in 1980 at the beginning of Dr. Thomas Bellavance’s presidency.  He was mocked for expressing an expectation that our higher education institution could become a selective regional public university.  Today SU is cited locally as a pillar of the community, a jewel of the Lower Shore, as well as within the University System of Maryland.  Back in ’80, locals disparaged the school; now its premium on excellence is recognized and lauded throughout the county, state and region.  Our public schools can embark on a similar journey.

In Lincoln’s inaugural address to Congress on July 4, 1861, he advocated for “a fair chance in the race of life” for all Americans.  To give Wicomico residents a fair chance in the race of life we need a top flight public school system. 

We need citizens’ vocal support and insistence–not imagining superior schools, but demanding and realizing them.  Get off the porch and accept nothing less than a Smart Community.

Gains Hawkins is President of the Democratic Club of Wicomico County.

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