When you live and/or work in a military town, you are probably familiar with the statement: “The mission always comes first.” The mission is what drives you; the mission is all encompassing. The mission is what you eagerly strive to attain. You are never deterred from the mission. It is always front and center.
On the Cumberland County Schools (CCS) website, the mission is clearly stated: “Our mission is to provide a safe, positive, and rigorous learning environment to prepare lifelong learners to reach their maximum potential.”
That is a powerful mission statement. Let’s take a look at what a rigorous environment looks like. The Glossary of Education Reform defines rigor as “instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences, educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging. Rigorous learning experiences help students acquire skills that can be applied in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives.”
If you peruse the school district’s website further, you will also find the Strategic Plan 2024. The first core value listed is that of EXCELLENCE: “We pursue and maintain the highest standards.”
Fast forward to a recent school board meeting. On Nov. 9, 2021, the board voted on Policy Code 3620: Extracurricular Activities, Co-curricular Activities and Student Organizations. Board Policy 3620 requires students to maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) and attendance rate to take part in various school-based activities.
After much heated discussion, the board voted 5 to 4 to eliminate the 2.0 GPA requirement to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. The obvious question is: Where is the rigor?
In a district wherein a quarter of its schools wear the designation of low performing, it is an injustice to lower standards so that students can participate in extracurricular activities. Eliminating the 2.0 Grade Point Average (GPA) requirement will only serve to further widen the achievement gap, and will not encourage individuals to be lifelong learners.
Based on what is referenced in the school district’s mission statement, the board’s actions are contradictory to the CCS mission.
If we genuinely want our children to reach their “maximum potential,” to be college and/or career ready, to go on to become productive citizens and contribute positively to society, lowering academic standards is clearly not the answer.
Playing sports should be valued as a privilege earned as a result of doing one’s best academically. To exploit the physical/athletic abilities of our youth while casting aside their academic growth is a disservice … one which will have long-lasting consequences.
If a student is struggling academically, but is interested in participating in extracurricular activities, that student should be required to participate in tutoring prior to engaging in the activity. Once grades improve, the student should be allowed to try out for sports and/or the activity that he/she chooses. Then, it would truly be a win-win situation.
An additional reading is required before this policy is approved, so it is not too late for this board to come together and do the right thing: Maintain the 2.0 requirement.
Our message to the Cumberland County Schools’ Board is simply this: Thank you to the four school board members who voted against lowering academic standards. To the superintendent and the rest of the board: Live up to your stated mission and your core values.
Pursue the highest standards. You are failing our students!
Jimmy Buxton is president of the Fayetteville branch of the NAACP.
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This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: NAACP leader: Cumberland Schools’ lowering of standards fails mission