One of the first things you might think while listening to these young(ish) people with Think Big Little Rock is: To heck with politics. The city needs more parents, tutors, teachers and coaches like these people. Turn these folks loose on the city and get out of their way. As the poet said, these young people are trying to change their world--and they're quite aware of what they're going through.
The young professionals at Think Big Little Rock finally made the papers the other day when they submitted their report. Finally, because they've been working on this report a year. And nobody can say the group's members, between 25 and 40 years old, took baby steps. Think Big didn't think small. They dug into education, transportation, crime and even, gasp, parking! You wanna get the attention of somebody who lives or works in Little Rock? Bring up parking.
It's difficult to bring 100-some-odd people together to write a committee report that does anything but achieve consensus. Trust us, we've been in editorial board meetings. So those who put together Think Big's report can be forgiven for stating the obvious on occasion. Yes, the city should reduce crime and increase the opportunities for arts and culture. And get more people involved in their communities. (All of this can be found on the group's website thinkbiglittlerock.com.)
But if there was one head-tilting moment for us while reading this report, it came in the Public Education portion of the report.
There wasn't much there concerning the most promising innovation to public education in a generation: namely, charter schools.
One of the report's Main Ideas in public education was to "keep middle school students engaged in learning." Another was to increase pre-K opportunities for "better student retention and performance," and to change discipline policies in schools to create a "safe and positive learning environment for LRSD schools and improved public perception of public schools in Little Rock."
How promote any of that seriously and ignore charter schools?
One of the benefits of increasing the number of pre-K seats, according to this report, would be to attract and retain more young professionals to Little Rock. Fine. There are already a number of wonderful pre-K programs in central Arkansas, all over the map, inside Little Rock and out. But charter schools seem to have a number of opponents each time one tries to open.
Talk about attracting young professionals, how about offering their children (and children to come) a great, innovative school without those young professionals having to pay tuition? See schools, charter.
We suspicion, however, that taking on the very subject of charter schools might have meant controversy. There is little consensus on the topic of charter schools, especially if you're trying to get the support of the system, which includes the education system.
Another advantage of charter schools, which young professionals would understand: They don't have to keep teachers who aren't doing the job. Unlike so many public schools. Young professionals know they can't stay in their jobs if they can't do the work. But in so many teacher union contracts, teachers get classroom assignments based on seniority, and can only be removed through ... retirement. If we're ever going to make real progress in the public schools, this has got to change. And if teachers' unions fight it, we need superintendents and school boards--and young professionals like those at Think Big--who will fight for the students. Here's a suggested bullet point for the next report: Quality Teaching Over Job Security.
Pre-K is great. We once had a superintendent tell us he'd trade 12th grade for universal pre-K, because it was that important.
But grades 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . . junior high and high school . . . those are important, too. And those running charter schools know it.
There we go again, getting on a soapbox. (What's an editorial page for?) It should be noted that Think Big has a lot of ideas on improving arts and culture, economics and public safety, too.
Now, as even they will tell you, it's time to implement these ideas. It's one thing to put them on paper. It's another to really fill vacancies at the police department, create a website to promote concerts, or hire a parking consultant. (All recommendations in the report.)
These young professionals have put many hours into this thing. It'd be a shame if the report just gathered dust.
But something tells us they won't allow that to happen. And their city will be better because of those who've thought big thoughts.
Editorial on 12/17/2017
Print Headline: Big thoughts