May 10, 2016

Public Education: a cornerstone of our democracy

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

Public education has always been the glue that binds our citizens together and forms the foundation for our democracy.

The very birth of our nation was created on the premise of free public education for all. Our founding fathers believed it was the duty of all adults in a community to provide an education for the children. The premise was that a community is healthiest when its children are well educated so that they can carry on the community’s responsibilities when they are adults. That is every bit the case today as well.

In fact, a secular, non-ideological public education system — available to all — is what separates free nations from others. May, which is Teacher Appreciation Month, is a perfect time to remind ourselves why public education is so very vital. It is also a time to celebrate and thank the teachers and educators who strive to make every classroom an exciting environment where productive learning can take place and each student is encouraged to grow and develop.

Our teachers, who are our community’s true unsung heroes and heroines, personify our society’s belief that universal public education is key to meeting the challenges of a changing world.

As part of our tribute to teachers, this month we also announced the 2017 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Michelle Minetti-Smith, a first grade teacher at Mary Buren School in Guadalupe. Michelle’s skill, creativity, passion, and compassion make her a perfect representative for all the outstanding teachers in Santa Barbara County who foster the well-being of our 67,000 public school students, regardless of ability, social or economic background, race, ethnic origin, or religion.

At our annual May Education Celebration, an enlightened business community invests in teacher excellence by awarding grants to teachers for innovative curriculum projects. Our business partners recognize that an investment in education today, and support of our teachers, pays dividends down the road.

At the May gala, we also announce the recipients of the Venoco, Inc. Crystal Apple Awards. Cash stipends and a crystal apple are given to 10 amazing educators — five from the North County and five from the South County — for their remarkable contributions to education. The Crystal Apple Awards, now in their 20th year, are an example of good corporate citizenship, and an inspiring story in itself. Tim Marquez, founder and CEO of Venoco, Inc., established the Crystal Apple Award as a tribute to his mother and father who were long-time teachers in the Denver Public School District. Tim saw first-hand how teachers educate, innovate, encourage, support, and touch the lives of their students.

Tim wanted to invest in education, recognizing that we will succeed as a society as long as we continue to serve our children.

This month, and all year long, we celebrate the genius of our founding fathers — the radical notion of a free public education for all — as a shared obligation and a rich reward. It has withstood the test of time, providing a trained workforce, informed electorate, and ongoing expertise in matters of sustenance and survival.

May is a time to celebrate public education as the cornerstone of our democracy, and teachers are the keepers of the dream and are our true community heroes.