The public schools in Fayette and surrounding counties aren't the worst in the state, but they are not the best, either. No one denies that.
Sometimes — many times, in fact — the difference between the best and the worst schools is how much community involvement there is and whether there are good relationships among teachers and parents.
The Kentucky Society for Clinical Social Work and the Children's Law Center have united in hopes of encouraging all of us to have a bigger presence in our schools and a greater knowledge of programs and policies that affect our children's educations.
That sounds relatively easy to accomplish, but obviously it is not.
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So, to get the school year started off right, the two groups are hosting a free showing of Waiting for Superman, a documentary by director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) that follows five students in as many states as they try to win a lottery that would allow them to attend charter schools and avoid neighborhood schools with high dropout rates.
The compelling and award-winning film was not without critics when it was released last fall. Teacher unions were not happy with footage of teachers reading books and newspapers instead of instructing their charges, and the unions pointed out that the record of charter schools is about equal to that of public schools.
But Lisa Berman, president of the Kentucky Society of Clinical Social Work, is not interested in slamming public schools.
"Instead of bashing the schools and saying what's wrong, we want to support and advocate for what public schools need," Berman said.
After the film at the Lexington Public Library on Aug. 25, there will be a panel discussion featuring professionals who advocate for children.
"The discussion will be audience-driven," Berman said. "But focusing on the negative is not going to get us anywhere. Our schools are not as bad as what we see in the documentary. We are using (the film) as a stepping stone."
The lottery system in the film is similar to what local families go through to enroll their children in magnet schools. Parents could turn that frustration into fighting for more magnet schools or alternative schools, Berman said.
"We have to do more than talk," she said. "We have to be willing to do some work."
For example, parents could serve on district-wide committees working on changes in special education or with groups interested in increasing and retaining the number of minority teachers in our schools.
"It is a huge wake-up call to look at things in a big way," she said.
When viewed on a more personal level, however, the wake-up call can be just as jarring.
Some parents aren't more involved with their children's schools because they don't feel welcome there. An "us versus them" mentality can keep parents at arm's length.
Alice Nelson, Fayette County schools family and community liaison, said she spends a lot of time empowering parents to advocate for their children and to break down barriers in our school system that make it hard for parents to get involved.
"We are trying to get our people to understand that if we don't establish relationships and treat people with value and respect, we are not meeting the social, emotional and educational needs of children and families," said Nelson, who will be a member of the discussion panel.
Parents and teachers alike make assumptions about situations and people, and we all have unwelcome feelings that we need to explore. Nelson called it a "knapsack of troubles based on our experiences."
Emptying that knapsack can only help our children.
Berman, who also serves on the district's Equity Council, said, "Maybe change is slow, slower than we would like, but there is change."
And it has to start somewhere. Why not with us?