Valparaiso Community Schools have been plagued by a lack of effective leadership in recent years, as evidenced by the School Board violating state contracting law, violating board policy, responding late to state funding cuts and hiring past Superintendent Andrew Melin, whose tenure is viewed almost universally as an abject failure.
These failings, combined with the board’s general disdain for honest, open public dialogue, has done great harm to our public school system.
The board’s latest injustice involves a plan that would almost certainly disadvantage Valpo High students in favor of foreign students coming through the for-profit Lumenus Institute.
This plan would put 30 wealthy Chinese students into Valparaiso High. These students would come as customers of Lumenus, a for-profit business owned by Mayor Jon Costas and area developers Chuck Williams and Harley Snyder. Lumenus charges these foreign students $42,000 and promises to prepare them to compete for admission into America’s top universities, as well as for entry into the U.S. job market.
The plan would place Valpo’s top performing high school students in direct competition with the profit-driven Lumenus customers, further straining our already stretched-thin resources.
Given China’s heavy focus of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum, VHS students would likely lose well-earned spots in Advanced Placement classes like AP Physics or Math, disadvantaging them when they apply to schools such as Purdue, Rose Hulman and others.
Making this flawed plan even more egregious was the board’s refusal to allow a single question, comment or concern from teachers and parents before voting in favor of this initiative.
Board member Jim Jorgenson, responding to criticism of both the plan and lack of process, was quoted in The Times as saying, “The 21st century is intensely competitive, and we need to prepare them for that.”
As if anyone who has lost their job in the past decade because of foreign, and often unfair, competition needs to be schooled on the harsh realities of globalization.
Still, the mission of Valparaiso Community Schools, like any public school, is to nurture, to teach and to prepare our children for that inevitable competition, not to throw them into the belly of the beast.
Of course, Valpo residents have come to expect from our School Board this kind of arrogance and contempt for honest public dialogue.
Of greater disappointment was the role of interim Superintendent Mike Berta, who equally refused to take any questions before or after the vote. In his closing comments, Berta stated we should remember “we’re in the kids business.”
The question Valpo residents need to ask is, whose kids?
Teachers, students, and parents have an opportunity to question the board at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Ben Franklin Middle School cafeteria, at the board's monthly discussion meeting.
These meetings, designed to be less formal to better engage the board with the public, will give residents a chance to voice their displeasure with the board’s Lumenus plan.