Should the Benton Harbor school district be dissolved? I am not sure. I do not have all of the facts, but my emotions say no. In fairness, I must disclose that both of my children started in the Benton Harbor school system. Due to a teacher who actually stood and screamed at the kids and a principal that told me she did not have time to listen to my complaint, I removed both children and put them in a private school. I also know that not every parent can do that.
So with that disclaimer and disclosure, back to the question: should the Benton Harbor school district be dissolved? Allow me the freedom to speculate and postulate. I do not have all of the facts available to me. For the sake of the students, there are pros and cons. They need a better quality of education, but they also need the identity of community. They need a better environment in which to learn, but they also need to learn that they are part of the environment. We can lay all of the blame on the decisions of the administrators and school board, but that would not be entirely true. Parents and students also play a big role in the end product.
Parents who will not take responsibility for the actions of their children and children who will not take responsibility for their own actions create an environment where no teacher, administrator or any other personnel can properly do their job. When accountability is not required and enforced, neither party will flourish. Teachers must teach, but students must study. Board members must be held accountable for the fiduciary side of the school and even the policies of the administration. The administrators must be held accountable to uphold and champion those policies.
The idea that Benton Harbor is a hopeless cause is fallacy. Change is seldom easy. Some holes, once dug, are almost impossible to fill in. It will take work on the part of the state, community, families as individuals, churches and the entire district. We hear a lot about bringing back the roar. We need that, but we need to evaluate the reason for the roar. Are we roaring about things that we take responsibility about, or are we roaring that everyone is against us and none of the problem is our fault?
Unless we acknowledge the things that need to change and step up to do what we can to change them, there is no need to roar just to make noise. Roar with the pride of success. Roar with the pride of being a good person. Roar with the pride of a community that cares about each other. Roar with the pride of a community that has safe streets and well-kept neighborhoods. Well-kept does not mean that there is nothing wrong. It does mean that city streets and alleys are not dumps.
All of these things that take place outside of the school system play a huge role in the school system itself. Students, parents and, yes, the teachers and administrators bring the mentality of the street into the halls of the schools. If the community takes pride and makes quality choices, that will permeate into the school system.
Once again I ask the question, should the Benton Harbor school system be closed or downgraded? That answer lies completely in the hands of the people of the Benton Harbor district. It should if nothing is going to change. It shouldn’t if those of us who care will change what we can change and try to persuade others to do the same. With the effort of an entire community and the willingness of the student body, the real roar of Benton Harbor Schools cannot only return, it can be louder than ever for all of the proper reasons.
Let’s do it.
Billy P. Long of Benton Harbor has resided in the area since 1972. He is pastor of the Apostolic Tabernacle in Benton Township.