Public Education: What a Bargain!

This week has been a wonderful time for Terri and me. It’s not often you get the chance to see both of your children graduate in two days. Such was the case this past Friday and Saturday as we witnessed Katie, our older daughter, graduate from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina on Friday with a masters in epidemiology and Maggie, our younger, again at USC on Saturday with a degree in political science/geology. Although I am a very proud dad, this article is not about them per se. This article is about the marvelous overt and inherent value of our public school system. It has been said “you get out of something the amount you put in it” or, in other words, “little ventured, little gained.” Far too often, I see the negative publicity about public schools. Unfortunately, smut sells and people too often follow a “news” story…even when there isn’t really one. But since the wonderful publisher at The Clinton Chronicle trusts me with a column every month, I want to take this time to shout out the many wonderful things happening in our public schools, here in Laurens County School District 56 (L56) and across the state. Public education is truly the linchpin for democracy. An educated electorate is necessary now more than ever to discern fact from fiction and fact from opinion (which far too often merge as two sides of the same coin). This article is not to pit private education against public but only to affirm the worth of the latter. Too often people equate public with free and cheap and somehow incorrectly conclude them to be innately inferior. Such is not the case! Public schools are doing better now than they ever have. Remember when I said, “You get out what you put in?” This is especially true with our schools and with our students. What have you done to lift up and affirm the efforts of our schools, our teachers, and most importantly, our students? Do you mentor a student? Participate in a backpack program? Tutor struggling students? You see, it really is your school…that’s why we call them public. You are essential for their success and survival. So much good comes from our schools here in L56 now. For example, • Just this past week, we received word one of our CHS students’ artwork will be on display at the US Capitol representing the Third Congressional District. • Earlier this month, we received word that Clinton High School was named one of South Carolina’s Best Public High Schools by US News and World Report (ranking 32nd out of 230). • Later this month, our CHS and CMS Science Olympiad Teams will compete against the best teams in the nation at Wright State University in Dayton, OH. This competition is akin to the old dirt track “Run What You Brung” concept where magnets, charters, home school associations, private and parochial schools, and large affluent public schools will compete for the national title. You see, our small community has so much to be proud of. If we spent a quarter as much time lifting up our public schools as we castigate them on social media, think how much better they would be? I wish the citizens of our state would see through the lie of “the failure of public education” and watch the monumental “one-student-at-a-time” successes as they matriculate later this month. As I watched the students graduate from USC, I thought about how many of them likely attended a public school. I bet a fair share did. And I bet many of them were better for having done so. So…the next time you are apt to fall victim to railing the public schools, remember far more good is done by and in them than bad. If you don’t believe me, go to a high school graduation or awards program. Last Friday and Saturday, we watched our daughters walk across the stage and prepare for their next steps in life. Later this month, superintendents, principals, teachers, and others will do the same for the many thousands of seniors in our high schools. I, contrary to the naysayers, believe the future is bright and in most capable hands and I salute the efforts of public school teachers everywhere and the many students whom they teach. You have made a positive and perpetual difference in the lives of so many. What a bargain! (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens County School District 56.)

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