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Get involved to ensure best 21st-century education for our children

Sherri Maxwell

After reading the recent article in The Journal regarding last week’s Montezuma-Cortez school board meeting, I feel compelled to speak up.

As a local long-time educator, I understand how imperative it is for districts to meet the needs of all students regardless of cultural, religious or socio-economic backgrounds. When we fail to do so, the community suffers greatly. Economic and social prosperity benefits all. Or as one of my colleagues is fond of saying, a rising tide floats all boats.

Over my 30-plus years in public education, I have born witness to many students who are left behind, marginalized or disenfranchised by our public school system. This is often because of the use of outdated and outmoded curriculum and pedagogy where other perspectives are absent, discouraged or written out of the narrative. Additionally, students are not encouraged to actively engage in their own education through civil discourse, which lays the foundation of civil society.

Wit and Wisdom, the current language arts program adopted by the Montezuma-Cortez School District, begins to address many of my concerns. In Wit and Wisdom, students are provided with diverse reading selections from multiple perspectives. Students engage in active discourse as they wade through the texts.

Yes, some of the content may be challenging for teachers to facilitate, as the texts require students to grapple with authentic, no-easy-answer situations – just as they will be asked to do in the real world. Yes, some of the texts may bring up “hot button” topics, which can spark some difficult conversations. These opportunities provide teachers and students with rich opportunities for reflective thinking and problem-solving, necessary skills for the modern world.

As current employers, institutions of higher education and the military take a closer look at how to create inclusive and diverse institutional cultures, we, as educators, must intentionally prepare our students to understand their personal perspectives and be respectful of other perspectives. Otherwise, we are preparing them for a world that no longer exists.

As the Montezuma-Cortez School District forms a committee to review the current language arts curriculum, Wit and Wisdom, I have several requests as a community member and local educator.

First, the committee must review the board’s mission statement: “In five to seven years the district will be recognized as a beacon of educational excellence. Our students are 21st-century scholars who are proud owners of their learning and successfully interact and compete in a global society. As the core of our community, we set the standard for inspiring, equipping, and empowering the diverse learners in the Montezuma-Cortez School District.” Use this statement as your guiding light. Filter all of your discussions and decisions through this lens.

Next, the Wit and Wisdom review committee must be representative of the local demographics. If the committee is not representative of our student body, the resulting review will not represent the perspectives of all students, families and cultures. Additionally, the review committee members must do their research. The constructs of diversity, equity and inclusion must be addressed with deliberate intentionality. Also, committee members must have an understanding of what critical race theory is and is not. Without research and understanding, the committee's work will reflect nothing more than personal opinions and ideology rather than current best educational practices, and many of our students will once again be left behind.

Finally, I ask that committee members and school board members actively reach out to those community members whose voices are not being heard. Invite them to meetings. Schedule meet-and-greets and be prepared to listen. Learn about other perspectives and opinions. In order to be understood, one must actively seek to understand first.

I implore other community members to be present and speak up at board meetings. This is a golden opportunity for other voices and perspectives to be heard at a very local level. Our country is at a critical juncture and we must begin at the local level to build a solid educational community based on the inclusion of all voices, the understanding of other perspectives, and civil discourse.

Sherri Maxwell is a local educator with more than 30 years of experience in public education, most in Dolores. She lives in the Montezuma-Cortez School District.