Monday, May 21, 2007

Petersburg Schools - Are uniforms PART of the answer?

People's Forum

The case for school uniforms in Petersburg

To the Editor:

In all my travels around our Commonwealth I know that the word is out – Petersburg is beginning to move clearly in the right direction. In the past 60 days alone we have seen two bold initiatives to address key problems of our city.
The first was Petersburg 2020 – an excellent strategy developed by City Council for a comprehensive restructuring of city priorities and management to position Petersburg for growth and success in this century. The second was the R/UDAT initiative by Downtown Petersburg, Incorporated, which brought what one participant called a “rainbow coalition” of city constituencies together for the transformation of our historic downtown into a vibrant and multi-dimensional urban center.
The implementation of both of these strategies will take a lot of dedication, sweat and money, but there is no reason why they can’t both be fully and successfully implemented.
With these initiatives launched, I believe the next focus must be on bold and clear actions in our schools. And just as with Petersburg 2020 and R/UDAT, we must begin by taking a cool, realistic and precise assessment of where we are today if we have hopes to reach new levels of success in the future.
The current state of our schools is not some kind of secret that we can or should hide. It is front-page news in newspapers throughout the Commonwealth.
An editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Dec. 8, 2006 said, “Solving the difficulties of Petersburg’s school system cannot be done gradually, and necessitates more than by-the-book answers . . . The children of Petersburg require boldness from those in charge of their education.”
Public education in Petersburg today is in crisis. There was no one single dramatic event that brought us to this point, but the long and constant list of headlines and news reports in our Commonwealth’s leading media outlets emphasize that there is a crisis and it must be dealt with directly and boldly.
At our school board’s April public hearing, many speakers emphasized the importance, within our city’s borders, of school uniforms. But a decision in favor of this reform would also send an important message to the Commonwealth that the students, parents and all citizens of Petersburg are serious about educational reform.
At that hearing I also listened carefully to the arguments of opponents of this idea. They made many good points, the most important being that uniforms in-and-of-themselves are not a magic pill to solve our education problem. And, should the school board members decide correctly to approve this initiative, they must roll up their sleeves the very next day to focus immediately on other priorities including:

Recruiting and retaining the best teaches possible.
Recruiting the best school superintendent possible.
Investment in school physical plant.
Investment in education resources and technology.
Funds for after-school and weekend education programs.
Funds for training program of parents of students.
Funds for youth development programs like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

A decision by the Petersburg school board will send a clear signal not only to our state and federal representatives but also to private and corporate entities to support this effort for comprehensive educational reform and dynamic youth development.
This decision on school uniforms must not be seen in isolation. If agreed to, it should be used to market our education reform strategy throughout our region and the Commonwealth. If Virginians see Petersburg’s citizens pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, they will come to help.
But they must see one thing first — and that is that we, the citizens of Petersburg, understand fully that this is a crisis situation and that we have taken the first step with confidence and determination.
We must have but one goal — for Petersburg to have the finest possible educational institutions and opportunities for our young people. To achieve that goal, the school board must make the first move and approve the school uniform initiative.

Linas Kojelis


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