Times have changed in the past few decades, and the reality is that for many people, high school graduation, while still exciting, can no longer serve as the key that opens the door to a satisfying life. Despite this, many local students opt to attend college or a specialized training program for a semester or a year and then drop out; others don’t go at all. The end result is that a hefty percentage of our students graduate high school and then take their place on a rung toward the lower end of the socio-economic ladder.

Things do not have to be like this. We could reimagine our schools. We could design them with the express aim of making sure all students graduate high school and then go on to either complete college or a skilled training program. As a nation we could prioritize equity the way people in many other countries have done in recent years. As a local community we could start a wider dialogue on what needs to be done to help our students succeed.

Many teachers believe that their schools are not working in the best interests of some of the students they teach. They see their students heading down roads that lead to misfortune. They have some pretty good suggestions for how their particular schools could be improved to help these students but they have not been given a forum for sharing and developing their ideas. Those suggestions include, but are not limited to: project-based learning; time in the day for teachers to collaborate; programs aimed at involving parents in the life of the school; programs aimed at helping students navigate the transition to life after high school.

School boards and school administrators should call together interested teachers to begin a constructive dialogue about what needs to be done to help our students reach their potential. Teachers definitely do not have all the answers to the thorny question of how to really make things work for all our students — no one group of stakeholders does — but I think they do have some. They are an invested group whose expertise has not been adequately tapped in the movement to reform schools. Another group that could be helpful in figuring out how to guide students better is parents. Parents all want the best for their children. No group is more invested in our students than they. School districts should find ways to hear the voices of parents and teachers.

Kathreen Harrison is a longtime educator with a strong interest in school reform. She is currently a World Language teacher in RSU 13, but over the course of almost 30 years has worked in 10 schools in capacities ranging from classroom teacher to gifted and talented teacher to island curriculum adviser.