I'm starting my 17th year as a teacher in the family of Tucson Unified School District, and I still get excited about our "welcome back" assemblies and the opportunity to greet a new group of students.
Last year, the assembly included a slide show featuring students and employees from perhaps a dozen or more district schools sharing uplifting messages. I felt proud. A colleague, whom I've worked closely with, was also featured. I felt an renewed appreciation for my profession and my colleagues.
This year we celebrated the nationally recognized accomplishments attained by University High School and C.E. Rose Elementary School.
The recognition was well-deserved. I wish it had included mention of the fact that TUSD schools now offer instruction in 10 languages, including American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Korean, Latin, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese - in addition to English.
I know of no other school district in Arizona that offers a comparable program of foreign-language instruction.
Ron Clark, the keynote speaker and apparent Pee Wee Herman impersonator, has been featured on Oprah for his ability to improve test scores among his students.
I wonder whether the principal, teachers and students from C.E. Rose and University High were considered for the honor? Their messages may have been less comical but certainly more relevant. We also would have been spared the sales pitches for Mr. Clark's books, videos and training programs.
After the assembly, I visited the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) website. RCA is a private school in Atlanta with a highly selective enrollment of 98 students in grades five through eight, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (July 1, 2010). The academy annually spends $18,000 per student and dismisses any student who does not "meet their standards."
Perhaps C.E. Rose could have taught Mr. Clark something about teaching the kind of English-language learners and special-education students who are unlikely to be found at his academy.
I'm sure Rose and University schools could have used the money expended on his professional speaker's fee.
Among the values highlighted at the district's presentation were student-centeredness, caring, diversity, collaboration, innovation and accountability.
By coincidence, they are the values that our legislative leaders seem to lack most when determining the annual funding of our public schools.
And although the first five values noted above received lip service, the last "value" seemed to predominate, suggesting that higher test scores are all that really counts.
The slide show and keynote speaker sent this message loud and clear.
As demonstrated by the student performances that kicked off the assembly and the demonstrators who stood outside, our kids reflect a few other values that are an essential part of our community: appreciation of our cultural heritages, respect for the dignity of hard work and the courage to question authority.
That's why I look forward with excitement to meeting my new students and saying, "Welcome back, mis estudiantes! Please know you are so much more than just numbers - you're amazing!"
Stephanie Gabaldón is a bilingual-education and special-education teacher at Lynn-Urquides Elementary School. Email her at Stephanie.Gabaldon@tusd1.org