We had a great turnout for Breakfast with Jamie Vollmer. The key takeaway – If you’re concerned about your community, it’s economy and it being a safe place to live, you need to be concerned about schools. It’s just that simple.

By Nathan Bergstedt Herald-Review | Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 8:27 am

The community conversation on education that the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success has been holding the past few years continued at the Timberlake Lodge on Tuesday morning, this time featuring author and businessman Jamie Vollmer. A long-time advocate for public education, who was once a harsh critic, spoke to members of Student Success, area educators, and other community members on the topic of engaging communities in being a part of the success of schools and students, and by the same token, the success of society.

The event was similar in nature to past Student Success gatherings, where attendees were encouraged to have open discussions about what can be done on a community level in order to enhance public education. This time the conversation was prefaced by Vollmer, who shared ideas on what he has personally learned and experienced with education, including the misconceptions he once held.

Vollmer talked about how when he first became involved in education, the idea that teachers were the problem and that the whole educational system could be fixed if it were just run like a business largely defined how he viewed public education. The realization that these ideas weren’t true came from volunteer work as a teacher’s aid, and from acknowledging that the comparison of schools to businesses wasn’t accurate.

“The idea that if we just ran schools like a business that we would get the products we want is empty, mindless, free-market rhetoric substituted for classroom reality,” said Vollmer.

The greatest evidence he gave for the claim was that schools “have no control over the quality of their raw material,” which in an educational situation are the children. Because of the diverse backgrounds and home lives of the children that attend public school, Vollmer argued that the challenge with which schools are faced is inherently different than the challenge with which any given business has to confront.

But the greatest challenge facing education right now is convincing larger numbers of people to become more actively involved. Whereas he didn’t discount the argument of “it’s just the right thing to do,” Vollmer told the audience at the Timberlake on Tuesday that a better argument for people who may not be interested in the education of children that aren’t theirs is that there is a direct correlation between the school in the community and the issues they care about the most. Noting how there is a direct correlation between crime rates and student achievement, Vollmer argued that more education advocates need to talk with citizens about how their tax dollars go toward improving more than just a school, but the community as a whole.

“It’s not really ‘discretionary’ income if you’re going to spend a little money to increase your safety, to raise your property values, to increase the tax base,” said Vollmer. “That’s not discretionary stuff; that’s vital stuff. And all of those things are affected by the quality of the schools.”

The means by which schools are made better is still up for discussion, especially when communities as a whole get together to discuss the matter. In part because of the increased need of higher education in our society, the role of schools is more important than ever, and the extent of the challenge presented to them is unprecedented. Locally, many involved in education are looking to increase the scope of student success by expanding education outside of schools and into the entire community, which in turn should make for a stronger, healthier economy in the long run.