This week after taking my two young boys to castle park, I decided to bring them by my old high school for a trip down Dad memory lane. In recent months they’ve grown fond of the Falcon logo, my old uniforms, and can even recite the school fight song from an off-tune shower version of mine. On this day, the boys were excited to be just a few yards away from the Falcon Football players during their practice. As we made our way back to the car, we looked inside the open doors of the gymnasium as the varsity volleyball team proudly stood for the national anthem, followed by the Falcon fight song…the boys finally got to hear the real thing. I ushered them away in an effort to make the next ferry, it was a school night and we live in Mukilteo.
This month marks 20 years since my first day at SWHS, the same month the tragic events of September 11th, 2001 unfolded. As I stared at my former school I couldn’t help but think how much has changed since then— in our world, in our country, and on our island.
The island is a treasured place to so many of us. My wife and I were high school sweet hearts, we both have families involved in the community, and we were privileged to learn from some of the finest and most talented teachers and coaches. Our backyard was a coveted playground. And growing up in an island community, our peers often felt more like family than friends. Whidbey was an ideal place to be raised within a supportive and inclusive community. Today I am left wondering how this community can recapture that spirit. I believe a critical part of the answer is the growth and development of the South Whidbey School District.
Today we live in understandably complex and, in some ways, unprecedented times. There is tremendous political passion from both sides of the aisle. But as I read last week’s front page article about the school board forming a committee to vet bringing back the Pledge of Allegiance in the board meetings (to be said in addition to the Land Acknowledgment), I couldn’t help but feel discouraged. Not because of this specific subject, but rather an ongoing clash of woke and anti-woke opinions that truly do not benefit students or make this district a more attractive place to live. What should be discussed is how to best serve the current students, how to drive funding for campus development, and how to support teachers.
Last year in Mukilteo, we passed a 6 year $240,000,000 bond to improve facilities. Our neighborhood school, Olympic View Middle School, is getting a state of the art turf field and updated sports complex being built right now. Despite our desire to return to the island, I struggle with idea of moving my kids out of a community and district that financially prioritizes the school system and programs in Mukilteo to a district that can’t even prioritize the return of a middle school facility, let alone the current maintenance and visual appearance of the high school/middle school campus.
If we want families to be attracted and return to the South End— invest in the school district in a meaningful way. Elect leaders that will be passionate about growth and development of our schools, not subjects often found in debate class and social media fights. Otherwise more homes will continue to trend toward Airbnb investment properties for the financially affluent folks around the Puget Sound. The cost of living will rise, and ferry lines will too.
In 2005, I was honored to turn the tassel on South Whidbey’s largest graduating class— nearly 200 students. As of today, the class of 2022 has 113 registered students. The numbers continue to drop because this community and the collective leadership of the district lacks a clear and cohesive vision for the school system.
So I say to the leaders of the district— reflect on how you can bring tangible improvements to this School District and create a community that puts our facilities, teachers, and students first. How can you enable growth and help make this deserving community a coveted place to raise children once again? And to the loud and boisterous concerned community members driving heated debates— don’t just focus on the the words on a banner or in a regurgitated statement, channel your energy to demand improvements to this School District to put the facilities, teachers, and students first. You are in this together, and the future of this community is in your hands. If you build it, they will come back.