What ‘No Child Left Behind’ ought to be

6 mins read

By Chris Damgen
In trying desperately to make sense of Dan Durbin’s shocking resignation, one quote in particular leapt out to me.  In talking with the Beaufort Gazette last week, Durbin said the following:
“I’m not sure that the role of principal hasn’t passed me by… To me, it’s about nurturing, about building up students to be the best they can be. But the new job of principals is about numbers, statistics and test results. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m just saying that isn’t me.”
More than anything, this quote emphasizes what is quite wrong with public education these days.
I was fortunate to have graduated from a public high school in 2002, just before the new standards and dictates of the federal No Child Left Behind program took into place. They had a new definition of a “good” school. Mine was different.
I would’ve characterized a good school as one where students performed increasingly well in the classroom (as well as on stage and on the field and courts), parents were involved and informed of school happenings, teachers were engaging and wanted to remain at the school, and where the principal was one who knew nearly every student and cared deeply about their success; in school and in life after school.
Based on my definition, as of last week, Beaufort High School was one of those good schools.
The bureaucrats will tell you that BHS has not met adequate yearly progress in the past five years and that the “absolute rating” (whatever that means) has been “average”. So, one can come to the simpleton conclusion that Dan Durbin is considered only “average” according to “No Child Left Behind.”
But if anyone knows him or has followed his career, Dan Durbin is the living embodiment of the phrase “no child left behind.”
What the bureaucrats cannot tell you is that Durbin had turned a school on the verge of becoming a fight venue for militant teenagers into a learning community where the emphasis of “family” became a core rallying cry.  They cannot monitor the number of tireless hours Durbin spent walking the halls, visiting classrooms, cheering on the teams, taking in the performances, and personally mentoring students. And they certainly cannot share with the public what sort of positive influence Durbin had on dozens of teachers, hundreds of students, and thousands of alumni.
Many people associated with BHS will tell you that the trajectory of the school was upwards. It is without question that a major reason for this was Durbin, who dutifully and faithfully served the school for nine years as principal, an eternity by Beaufort County School District standards.
Ah, but what about those grade changes, you ask?
This is where it becomes so difficult and heartbreaking. Yes, Durbin’s actions were wrong. He broke the rules.  He even admitted as such. He did not set a good example for students by flaunting a policy. He absolutely needed to resign for his actions. He took responsibility and prepared to do so at the end of the year.
But as one cannot judge a book by its cover, one cannot judge Durbin for these actions alone. No reasonable person can honestly state that Durbin’s intentions were sinister.
We as a society need to ask ourselves: Is it better to follow the rules and have the kids not graduate? To let them become disillusioned with authority and become cynical to lifelong learning? If changing or adding a grade enabled several students who had already demonstrated an ability to pass a subject in latter courses meant that they would be able to graduate, then perhaps it was worth taking the fall. Isn’t that the essence of not leaving a child behind?
If only the powers that be at the Beaufort County School District demonstrated the same level of commitment and attention to a child’s education and future success, perhaps we wouldn’t have this predicament.
By forcing Durbin’s resignation in the middle of the school year, the district demonstrated it cares only about appearances and not about the interests of its students. They had no consideration about the emotional upheaval this has caused for BHS students, faculty, staff, and parents. They have no decency in allowing for a respected educator (who openly admitted to erring) to complete the school year and resign with a measure of dignity.
No, the district chose the “No Child Left Behind” approach. And in doing so, they left behind children and what little respect they had left in our community.

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