The Graham Local Schools community is an extensive one. Over the past two years my wife and I have become accustomed to lots of introductions to our diverse neighbors and their views. Throughout lengthy drives to reach citizens across 185 square miles, we have endeavored to share Graham’s story in the community itself, on behalf of the Board of Education, and our schools’ students and staff.
Ironically, while we have been celebrated regionally, at the state level, and even nationally for our work in the schools the past two years, there remains a difference between the perception of our schools by those inside our community, and some outside. Newspaper articles, community events, social media campaigns, emails, radio interviews, awards, and face to face meetings have not reached enough of our citizens to change their minds about their community investment in schools.
Let me be very clear: my message has consistently been one of focus on the needs of today’s learners, so that they can be prepared for tomorrow. Our Board worked hand in hand with community members put in place a comprehensive plan to improve our district. We have shared those goals, and our progress repeatedly.
I cannot explain the excitement Graham staff felt when they recently received not one, but two STEM designation Awards from the Ohio Department of Education. After years of hearing that some Graham residents needed “proof” of academic excellence, here it was. There was an explosion of pride for our students’ work. I wish our disconnected community members could see this change.
The misguided perception by some that Graham staff and students have not performed “enough” to deserve an investment in their futures is sad. One person remarked to me that “students don’t know what’s going on politically”. This person is completely wrong. Staff and students alike have been affected negatively impacted by two failed levies over the last year. Many of them know exactly what’s going on in our community.
You see, “community” isn’t about the schools, and then everyone else who lives in “Graham”. We are all Graham, like it or not. It doesn’t matter what township you live in. Everyone around us calls this place Graham for a reason. It doesn’t matter whether you commute past us to get to work or school or your home. Our economic impact is felt outside of our campus, and felt countywide. As one of the largest employers and economic contributors to the county, our losses directly translate into financial losses for the entire community. Your businesses and families and property values have been, and always will be, impacted by Graham, like it or not.
Our Board of Education is comprised of 5 Graham graduates who represent the diverse constituents they serve. This group is Graham. They have listened, sought input, brought together other citizens, developed a plan with measurable goals, and communicated it out better than any prior iteration. They have received the Ohio School Board Association’s highest honor for Board effectiveness. Aren’t you proud of them? I am. They represent community.
Our students in all three buildings are proving they are valued members of Graham. Just this year, a 5th Grade student became Graham’s 1st Google Certified elementary school student. I don’t know many community members that understand the significance of this certification. But this 5th grader does. That’s the most important lesson I can communicate about what’s happening at Graham’s schools: it’s about their learning and their needs and their future community.
Why should that matter to those disconnected from our schools? Because these students are literally this community’s future, or not. They can easily become some other community’s future. They can easily buy, sell, rent, or invest in ANY OTHER COMMUNITY THEY CHOOSE.
We’ve heard the phrase a thousand times, but do we ever really listen to the hidden message: these children are ours. In small, rural America, doesn’t that matter to our property owners? Small business owners? Local organizations? Politicians? It ought to be a priority, or we truly do not understand how community is sustained. It ought to be about Graham, because Graham is not just 3 school buildings and 1950 students and 230 staff. Graham is everyone.
The economic impact of failed levies is already being felt locally. The climate is already changing. Our neighbors and the competition all around us get this. In township halls and churches and businesses every Graham citizen should be reflecting on what is happening to our community, and what they can do to fix it on November 6th. Investing in schools is as much about investing in the community as it is investing in yourself. Whether you care about your property value, your income, or your quality of life, Graham is all around you.