Society can raise bar by working better together

Fred Washington Jr. of Beaufort accepted his recent re-election by his peers to lead the Beaufort County Board of Education with a warning.

Washington told his colleagues he intended to challenge them to become more engaged with parents, residents, schools, politicians and the array of local and state agencies that work on the common goal of producing sound citizens.

The challenge is a good one for school board members, but for many others, as well.

We need more collaboration and involvement in addressing society's needs, particularly as budgets plummet.

Give Washington credit for suggesting this can be done without a single new committee, task force or dollar. He wants better participation within organizations long established, including the councils mandated for every school by state law.

By encouraging school board members to attend School Improvement Council meetings at the schools in their districts, Washington hopes to improve communication between the board and the parents, community members, faculty and administrators who make up the councils.

The councils have specific duties under the law, such as establishing a five-year plan to improve a school, working to make it happen and measuring its success or failure. All of the councils need more people participating. Through this facet of the Education Improvement Act of 1984, the state offers many resources to the councils and to individuals who want to be better advocates for the schools. It offers a competition for the best council of the year, for example -- a competition that sadly lacks much participation from the Lowcountry.

Washington also is encouraging board members to build a relationship with their counterparts on the Beaufort County Council and with their state lawmakers. He is encouraging them to have at least two community meetings within their districts each year.

In 27 years with the county's Department of Social Services, Washington learned that many different organizations have similar goals that would help students, and he's convinced they can work better together. Beaufort County is ahead of the curve in this regard, thanks to the Together For Beaufort organization and the Human Services Alliance, which bring together social services professionals, nonprofit groups and volunteers to identify problems and address them.

"We've got to connect the dots," Washington said. "We don't do a good enough job of that."

The school district faces diverse problems, and it must offer diverse responses. But it cannot fix society alone. People often say the schools are failing. In the cases where that is true, it would be more accurate to say society is failing. We encourage a collaborative approach that better uses existing channels and existing resources.