December 09, 2021

Engagement a key to success

Recently the Newton Community School Board was called into question on their willingness or ability to listen to public input. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I believe that the recent discussion on mask mandates showed just how willing the board is to listen. I expected, as did many others, a universal mask mandate would not only be a consideration but an inevitable outcome of the September 27th board meeting. For those who attended and/or listened you may recall the option of a universal mask mandate for all students and staff wasn’t even brought to a vote.

In addition to the countless personal conversations with community members the board listened to every one of the voices in the room and online that night, read every one of the emails that were sent and sought input from legal counsel, school administration and the Jasper County Health Department. There was a lot of listening going on. While not everyone agrees with the direction that was taken, it’s a fact that a universal mask mandate was not instituted in our district. The feedback from our district’s families was considered on both sides of the issue. The result…action was taken to put reasonable guard rails in place to ensure that both teachers and students could have as normal a year as possible.

If you need other examples you won’t have to look far. Teachers brought forward the High Reliability Schools model and Professional Learning Communities to improve student achievement and the board listened. We are now Level 1 certified across the district and working towards level 2 in this multi-year journey. Parents asked for a way to better understand bus routes, so their students weren’t left waiting in the cold. We now have the Here Comes the Bus App to provide real-time notifications for our district’s parents, the board listened. The list could go on.

I’m glad to have had the engagement from our parents on the mask issue. I hope we have this level of engagement on student achievement and so many other issues we’ll need to address. When looking for change the challenge we have is less about listening and more about engagement. We need the engagement of everyone in our community to achieve our mission. When voting on Tuesday, I ask you to consider the candidates that you trust to engage with ALL perspectives, not just their own.

Josh Cantu

Newton Community School Board Vice President