Abraham Lincoln said, "I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives." I can honestly say that I could not be prouder of the fact I was born, raised, and educated in Poland. It's not a "snobby thing" or a "better than you thing," it's a "Poland thing." It's the things that attract transplants from Campbell, Struthers, Boardman, and elsewhere. It's the things that keep generations of families here. From the small-town atmosphere to the low crime rate to the community activities, the list goes on and on. However, there is one thing in particular that has helped define our community over the years, and that is our school system. Poland Local School District has been at or near the top for many years. In fact, Poland Seminary High School was recently ranked in the top 10 percent of all U.S. high schools. Ours schools have retained and attracted a population that values education. Ask someone to list their reasons for living in Poland and they will undoubtedly have schools in their top 2.
I've had the pleasure of working as a substitute teacher in Poland for parts of the last two school years. I've also, as part of my coursework at YSU, had the chance to spend some time in several other local schools. Based on my experiences I've come to a few realizations. First, we have some beautiful newer school buildings in the area. Second, we have some beautiful older school buildings in the area. Third, the age of a school building has nothing to do with academic performance.
Case in point, compared to the other schools I have been in, Poland lacks the technology, aesthetically pleasing classrooms, and overall up-to-date amenities. However, despite being on the wrong side of the education funding equation, Poland students continue to perform at a higher level. So, this begs the question. Why is money continually being spent to solve a problem that has nothing to do with school buildings, materials, supplies, and technology?
The majority of teachers I've talked to say half the battle in educating a child is already won if education is a priority in that child's life. With that said, I believe the one defining characteristic that separates our schools is the district's population. I spent time talking to students in several districts, and their views on the importance of education were in sharp contrast. Mine would have been too if I grew up in these other districts and lived the life of some of these children. I was stunned and saddened by the hardships endured by many of these children. Poverty, violent crimes, single parent households, and foster care to name a few.
That being said, who honestly believes that the construction of new schools in impoverished and underperforming districts is going to counteract the adversity faced by its occupants? You might think the state is of this opinion since they are the one cutting the checks for new buildings, but I don't think they even believe it can make a difference. The money being spent on new schools is only in response to the DeRolph cases which ruled the educational funding system unconstitutional. With substandard facilities being a key component of the DeRolph cases, the state demonstrated their commitment to equality by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new buildings to "level the playing field." However, it their quest for equality they have tilted the fiscal playing field in favor of economically disadvantaged districts. Yet, despite the disparity in state funding, students in schools like Poland continue to outperform students in districts that receive the majority of their funding from the state.
So, with open enrollment on the horizon in Poland I want to extend a few welcome greetings. First, welcome to those parents who value their child's education enough to abandon the new school buildings in their local school district. Second, welcome to those students who will help rescue our dwindling enrollment and balance sheet. Finally, welcome to the new generation of Poland Local Schools.