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In the span of time between writing columns, various sources are used to list ideas, thoughts and possible topics for the next or future submissions: Media reports, educational journals/newsletters, happenings in our local school districts, personal reflection and experience, etc. I jot down a variety of notes to peruse and prioritize in order to gather focus before scripting a new Report Card.

Well, the length of the list of jottings is now, at year’s end, multi-page. Thus, we submit to you this week a commentary of short subjects created from that list before beginning another series of notes for 2008.

Reading: No surprises that with TV, Web surfing, iPods, cell phones and instant messaging, reading rates among young people has plummeted over the last 10 years to shameful and alarmingly low levels.

Facts: Only 30 percent of 13 year olds read every day; the number of 17 year olds who have never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent to 19 percent between 1994-2004; about 50 percent of Americans between 18 and 24 years old never read for pleasure; the average person between ages 15-24 spends two and a half hours a day in front of TV and 7 minutes reading. (These stats are from a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts.)

The ramifications of this trend are significant, as not only are reading rates declining, but also proficiency. Does this maybe create a thought for a New Year’s resolution in your family?

19 Minutes: Speaking of reading, in view of the continuing school shootings, the incessant reports of bullying in our schools and the domestic strife experienced in many kids’ homes, if you are a parent and/or educator you must read Jody Picoult’s riveting, well-based and thought-provoking book “19 Minutes.”

Cell phones: School districts must find a balance between free use and no use of cell phones on school property. The reports of text messaging, and cell phones chirping and being answered during classes are out of control in many schools. There have been instances of drug deals being negotiated among students and even involving suppliers outside of school. Students’ tardiness to class results from phone conversation between classes.

With cell phones becoming more ubiquitous in the last five years, many of the total bans on cell phone use on school property of the 1990s have been relaxed.

Students’ attention to the educational tasks at hand while in school cannot be disrupted. Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., the states’ largest high school, has enacted reasonable and thus far effective restrictions that are worthy of consideration. As in any policy it’s a matter of consistent enforcement, but it’s time to resolve a major school distraction. Put the phones away!

School Building Assistance: The Legislature established revised guidelines for a new school-building and renovation process in 2004. Finally last week, after three and a half years and a moratorium on any building assistance, which only served to exacerbate conditions in many school buildings, $500 million was authorized to be spent on repairs, feasibility studies, design and some initial payment for construction of new buildings. Of the 83 schools given initial approval, the quickest funding will go to 27 that require, in the building authority’s opinion, immediate repair (not construction). The allocation to the other 56 school districts will depend on extensive feasibility studies.

With regionalization discussions being advanced locally among Ayer, Shirley and Lunenburg and with each having building renovation or replacement needs, we think the School Building Authority (SBA) erred in placing all three towns “on hold” for funding. We endorse the expressed opinion of Superintendent Mac Reid in Shirley, who has contacted state authorities and advocated a Department of Education and SBA agreement to provide funding incentives for districts studying regionalization. (Ayer-Shirley-Lunenburg, we think, is the only active study in the state.)

To successfully complete a new three-town regional agreement will undoubtedly require renovation or school replacement in at least one of the districts. Not knowing, during the study and feasibility process, whether appropriate money will be available could be deterrent to acceptance of an agreement.

The Department of Education, by favoring district regionalization and collaboration, could give a boost to the project by voicing their recommendations to SBA as a favored project, reducing three separate requests for SBA funding to one regional submission.

Drug testing: With all the discussion and contagion of substance and steroid abuse among athletes, why aren’t more colleges and universities enacting programs similar to what Keene (N.H.) State College is considering for their student athletes? After a pilot program revealed 40 percent of their athletes tested positive for illegal drug use, they will probably implement a random drug-testing program commencing in 2008.

In fact, college campuses across the nation would do well to address the whole “character” of their programs; the conduct, ethics and morals of many of their “athletes” detract from the mission of a true educational institution. (Witness the latest example of 30-plus football players suspended from bowl-bound Florida State in a huge cheating scandal.)

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” May that be our theme for 2008! Happy New Year!

Casey is a retired public school educator of 36 years, serving 24 of those years as an administrator in four school districts. He has served as a consultant to the Ayer and Weston school districts and as director of the Nashoba Valley Partnership for Excellence in Education.

In 1997-1998, Casey was a member of the Mass. Secondary Schools Administrators’ Association Blue Ribbon Panel on the needs of high school principals under educational reform and participated in a consortium at the lab at Brown University on restructuring high schools for the 21st century.

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