Sixty years ago, on a beautiful late-summer morning in Lincoln, my mom clasped my tiny hand and walked me to my very first day of kindergarten at Beattie Elementary School.
The building was brand new. The principal was Miss Rice. I can remember names of all my elementary teachers. And though many years have passed since then, this is what I know for sure: I had an amazing beginning of my life at Beattie Elementary.
This past August, six decades later, on a beautiful late-summer morning I took the tiny hand of my granddaughter Scout for a walk to her first day of kindergarten – at Beattie Elementary. Mr. Bailey is the principal now and continued excellence in teaching still happens inside those four walls.
Despite years of wear – admittedly with facelifts and additions along the way – the school remains a solid, quality building. And this is what I know for sure: I have faith Scout will have an amazing beginning to her life at Beattie Elementary.
The wonder of Lincoln Public Schools is that on the first day of school this year (one of my favorite work days as director of communications at LPS) families across the community delivered their 42,000-plus children to our 60 schools and programs – with complete confidence their students would have an amazing first day of school, amazing year, amazing beginning to their lives.
The legacy of public education in Lincoln stands strong as LPS is alive, well and thriving.
It has been my privilege to be part of the LPS story for 20 years now. As director of communications, it is certainly my role to share accounts of our remarkable accomplishments and achievement scores. But I believe the true magic is not only about successful numbers, it is about passionate and compassionate educators who care deeply about our children.
The power of public education in Lincoln rests in the day-to-day stories of classroom triumph, those moments when students:
* Learn first words, read first books – add, subtract, calculate trigonometry equations.
* Ponder complexities of the atom, the world, the stars.
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* Embrace critical thinking, balance checkbooks and contemplate the mystery of mortgage payments.
* Attempt first notes of musical instruments, swirl first paintings.
* Begin to comprehend technology, government, foreign language.
In fact, few people care more about our children than public school teachers. And this is not easy work, as our kids arrive with heavier and heavier backpacks filled with issues of hunger, trauma, homelessness, hopelessness.
Yet public schools take in every child who comes to our doors, asking no questions, accepting and embracing them all. Public schools are a true symbol of society because there is no barrier to entry.
On any given day, more than 100 languages are spoken at LPS. Children with broad special education needs are provided appropriate services. Students receive support for everything from gifted skills to mental health struggles.
Centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson was clear that a successful democracy required well-informed citizens, specifically citing education as a public good to be included in the “articles of public care.” John Adams urged, “There should not be a district of one-mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual but maintained at the expense of the people themselves.”
Since those early civic proclamations, our courts have consistently affirmed that public schools are a cornerstone of American democracy.
Personally and professionally I tire of the denigration of public schools. We are acutely aware there is room to improve and, in the interest of children, constantly strive to do better. This year, LPS tackles the daunting issue of equity, as well the challenge to ensure we have quality facilities for all.
At the same time, public education in Lincoln continues to give us hope for the future – a great equalizer that provides a rich and well-rounded education for all our children. While we continue to focus on accountability and standardized testing, we also understand our essential role in providing a global experience that creates the foundation for innovative, involved and industrious citizens.
This fall, I retire as the communications director of our school district after the honor and joy of telling the stories of LPS for many years. I urge you to value and support our public schools and continue to tell our stories.
Our children and grandchildren – my granddaughters, Scout and Everlyn – depend on it.
Mary Kay Roth is director of communications for Lincoln Public Schools.