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Superintendent’s Message: Education Makes a Difference

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of  Schools

Seventeen-year-old  Malala Yousafzai has inspired the world with her courageous fight for the rights of  young Pakistani women to be educated.  She survived being shot by the Taliban for  speaking up and attending school herself. Recently, the teenager became the youngest  person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

 Malala knew that learning was the key to a good life.  She was literally willing to give up  her life for what so many of us take for granted.  Malala’s story took place thousands of  miles from Emporia. But even in our own country where there are so many  opportunities and choices, a quality education can be out of sight for far too many  young people.

 Through their work with students and families, our staff in the district’s Student and  Family Resources Office often see examples of hope and courage and sometimes  despair.

Just recently, a young woman contacted the office.  She said she wanted to return to high school so she could graduate, but because she had no parent or guardian in her life, there were a number of legal barriers getting in her way. We helped her work through those obstacles and she now is attending high school. But unfortunately, our community has an increasing number of teenagers living on their own without any significant means of support.

Another case involved a young mother trying to enroll several children after their home and everything they owned had been lost in a fire. The family was still struggling to cope with the loss of their belongings and had no permanent address.  Yet, this mother put everything else on hold for a little while.  She knew that getting the children in school where they could feel safe would be a major step in bringing normalcy back to their lives.

The privilege of a free public education can easily be taken for granted in a society so rich with opportunity and choice.  In both of these cases, personal circumstances, no matter how temporary, had made this “right” feel out of reach.

In the United States, public schools are often scrutinized for failing to meet a moving target and challenged to stretch beyond their human and fiscal resources.  In Kansas, as in many other states, schools struggle to keep up with the growing demands and constantly rising expectations.

But there is very little debate that education is the cornerstone of a thriving society and a healthy, prosperous economy.

In the 21st century, it is difficult to even imagine that there are still some cultures in the world where some are chosen to receive the benefits of an education and others are deemed not worthy.

Malala’s story is one that makes us shudder at the thought of such discrimination and injustice.  Our history is full of inspiring stories of less fortunate people who triumphed over poverty and other hardships through hard work and a good education. It’s part of the “American dream.”

And yet, after decades-long debate, the courts and the legislature continue to wrangle over the equity and the adequacy of a suitable education for Kansas kids, regardless of their economic status or their address.

As far back as World War I, the American Legion and the National Education Association, concerned that 25 percent of draftees were illiterate, came together in a national effort to  increase public awareness and celebrate the importance of an education. That first American Education Week was observed in 1921.

Our district will join in the 2014 observance Nov. 16 – 22, the week prior to Thanksgiving. Business partnerships with Emporia State Federal Credit Union and KVOE will showcase the many success stories in our schools and thank our employees for their hard work and dedication on behalf of students. We appreciate the opportunity to tell the stories of how schools can and do make a difference.

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