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MOUNT VERNON. . . We Have A PROBLEM

Part 2 of 3

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how Mount Vernon is a corporation and if we expect to see our investment in that corporation grow, we had better demand things like transparent leadership, fiscal discipline and competent management from those who are running the place. Without it, we’re just going to watch our home values continue to dwindle to nothing.

Before we talk about schools, I am aware that the remarks I made in Part 1 ruffled some feathers over at the School District, so let’s clear up a few things. My primary point is that our school system is failing our children and we are not getting our monies worth for the taxes we pay. I called it a “catastrophic” failure. One of the accepted definitions of that word is “unsuccessful.” I still think that is the case. To the extent I implied that the schools were asking for more money every year, I apologize for that. The school system is getting better, but it’s got a long way to go. I like and respect Dr. Hamilton and I know that he’s doing the best he can with a difficult hand. For that he should be commended.

My comments are not made in a vacuum. One of my businesses involves educating young adults to get good-paying jobs in the construction industry. They learn skills needed to provide for themselves and their families. I’ve placed over a thousand students into construction jobs, many of them with union benefits. Their hard work coupled with the skills they learn give them a solid foundation for a career. However, when they come to me, they are coming fresh out of our school system and are completely unprepared. Things like basic math, fractions and critical thinking elude them. Forget about the more complicated algebra and trigonometry they’re going to need to work successfully in the construction business at a higher level. They have difficulty reading a ruler and in the construction industry (and in life), that’s a huge problem.

When I say our schools are failing our children, it comes from that experience. It’s not just the School District’s fault. As a community, we are also failing the kids. Our community expectations are so low, these kids don’t know what success is supposed to look like. We make excuses for bad behavior, bad results, and bad outcomes and that has to stop. The only ones NOT to blame are the kids themselves. All kids can learn and can learn almost anything, but what they cannot do is overcome the lack of concern from a community regarding their academics.

My last article talked about the “investment” we all make in our City and how that investment is undermined by certain factors like incompetent governance, reduction in services and sky-high taxes. The performance of schools is also a huge factor. One of the primary reasons for home purchases in a community is the success of its schools system. Even people who don’t have kids in school know a good school system increases the value of their homes.

Therefore, the school’s leadership must understand and appreciate that time is not on their side to make the improvements needed to this school system. If people lose all value in their homes, there’ll be no tax base on which to make future improvements. For potential homebuyers in Mount Vernon, quick Internet searches do not help us. According to http://www.GreatSchools.org Mount Vernon ranks just 1-out-of-10 for college readiness and 2-out-of-10 for test scoring. That’s what people see when they look to buy a home in Mount Vernon. That’s not good!

The New York State Department of Education publishes a ton of information at https://data.nysed.gov/profile.php?instid=800000035289 where you can look up any school in the state. Our graduation rate is below the state average and 2-out-of-4 (50%) with regard to college, career, civic readiness and state assessment results are way below average. As I mentioned, we got a long way to go.

Some people say it’s a money problem, however, the numbers don’t support that theory. Did you know that Mount Vernon spends more money on a per school, per student basis than Scarsdale, a community with excellent schools? The class sizes are generally smaller in Mount Vernon and the attendance rate is very comparable but the results are radically different. Compare it for yourselves at https://data.nysed.gov/profile.php?instid=800000034921. Just looking at the success they have in AP courses alone tells you they are preparing students for college-level work (80-100% passage rate). Mount Vernon doesn’t even publish those numbers.

There are other issues that tell the story, too. These are things the School District cannot fix. Things like income levels, home environments, student motivation, parenting, discrimination and racism. As a community we must deal with realities, not hopes and dreams. The School District will tell you that things are getting better. The reality will tell you that “better” is still a good way from “decent” or even “acceptable” and a long way from “excellent.”

Our reality must guide our policy. We need to stop listening to empty promises from our leaders who talk a lot and deliver very little. As I said before, Dr. Hamilton is doing his best in the face of a city government and community that is failing its school system. Our teachers need to do better. That’s a reality. Our parents need to do better. That’s also a reality. Our community needs to demand better. That’s a fact.

We’re all in this together. No one is above fault. But, if we continue to deny reality we do so at the expense of generations of kids who will enter this world completely unprepared to succeed, survive, or subsist – forget about compete. When the entire City of Mount Vernon is living in no-tax affordable housing projects, where do you think our schools will be then?

We know we have problems. What are we prepared to do about it?




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