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Livin' in the changing 'burbs

The suburbs are the American dream, right? Living in a nice house, having a good job, a happy family. Cheryl Hines

Up until a couple years ago, I had no desire to live in a suburban area. I grew up on a farm in a rural community and have spent my career working in smallish schools and living modestly sized communities - most happily on a lake somewhere in the country. Living in a downtown metro area sounded interesting. But the 'burbs - old, ultraconservative, white folks - no thanks.

A job opportunity made a move to a suburb rather inevitable. And moving from small town life to this new environment of busy roads, no downtown, large shopping malls, and a seemingly-removed government has been a long adjustment. My suspicion that suburbs lack the personality - even the soul - of smaller towns was not entirely unfounded.

Suburbs, mine included, are also making adjustments as this interesting Pew Study reveals. We are becoming less conservative, older, poorer, and more racially diverse. But we are gaining population. And of course, this is impacting our schools in very big ways. My district is now a "minority-majority" district and we are still searching for ways to close the achievement gap. We are serving more immigrant families with language acquisition needs. An increasing number of our students need not just free and reduced price lunches, but help getting enough to eat on the weekends and over the summer. We are experiencing "white-flight" with parents placing kids through open enrollment in less diverse districts nearby. 

I sincerely believe our entire staff - from board members to bus drivers - is trying to figure out how we as a district needs to change as our community changes. And there are no easy answers. So much of what influences if and how our kids learn is outside our control. A homeless kid may have more to worry about than knowing the Pythagorean Theorem.

But I think we will adjust. Just as I am adjusting to living outside my small town comfort zone by joining a service club and participating in hiking and biking group activities, so will our district figure out how to allocate its resources, change its teaching methods, communicate more effectively, and retain all families living in our community. Change is bumpy with starts and stops and much discomfort at times. But it happens.

I often think of the old quote from Seneca: The fates guide those who go willingly; those who do not, they drag.

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