Opinion written by Melissa McNair-King, guest contributor to VPK.
Last night, the Pulaski County School Board presented its plans for a new, consolidated Pulaski County Middle School. It is a beautiful plan, with tremendous upgrades compared to the current Pulaski Middle and Dublin Middle Schools. The proposed school will offer up-to-date accessibility and safety measures. It will include athletic and arts facilities, STEM and Agricultural labs, and areas for collaborative learning. And yes – it will even provide air conditioned classrooms! All of this will happen for a median tax increase of less than $100 per year! That sounds like a no-brainer to me. As the hashtag goes…#justbuildit.
But somehow – I left the meeting feeling ashamed and sad. The presentation was filled with comments like: “This is a modest proposal.” “The average square foot per pupil in Virginia is 166. Our design would provide 149 square feet per pupil.” “This isn’t the Taj Mahal.” “Here are the pictures of Page Middle School. They had a more generous budget; your school won’t look quite the same; this just gives you an idea.”
And here’s what I heard: “Don’t worry – we promise to build a school that is slightly below average. We will provide for our students something slightly worse than what the average Virginia student has.” If I hear it, then our teenagers hear it. You are below average. You deserve something modest. This isn’t the Taj Mahal.
I wish our students heard something more. I want them to hear that they deserve the best school in the state of Virginia. I want them to hear that we believe in them, that they can be successful, that we have confidence in their futures. I want them to hear that the possibilities are only as limited as their imagination and work ethic. I want them to hear that if the average student in Virginia has 166 square feet, then we’re going to give them 170.
Yes, let’s build the school. But let’s change our tone.