Sound Off: Schools need community involvement to thrive

My name is Samantha Horrobin and I am one of the co-chairs for the Citizens for Better Schools Campaign, a community volunteer group that worked hand-in-hand with the Oak Harbor Public Schools on the recent school bond proposal.

As you may be aware by now, the vote came up short with only a 55% approval instead of the 60% super majority that is required in the state of Washington to pass a bond. I assure you that this result was not from a lack of effort on the part of the school district and community volunteers who gave so much of their time and effort to educate and rally our citizens toward a yes vote. From countless meetings, emails, social media posts, meetings with local clubs and organizations, signs placed in yards, business windows and waved, we could not have had the impact we did without every single one of you. We see you and offer you a very sincere thank you for the time and investment you made in our students and schools. And to everyone that submitted a ballot, especially those with the “yes” box filled in, thank you for your support of our students, schools, and city.

The number of “no” votes (there were 4,154) are obviously upsetting for a campaign you’ve worked so hard on, but more than that I am concerned with the votes that were never submitted; over 14,374 of them to be exact. With a little under 39% of registered voters submitting ballots, only 39% of eligible parents voted, with the four military housing districts ranging between only 3-18% registered voters turning in a ballot. With the national average of voter turnout at 67%, these numbers are extremely troubling.

We can’t make these improvements to our schools if community members, especially those who would most directly benefit from them, aren’t voting. Ultimately, the school board will decide if and when we will make another attempt at passing a bond and in what scope. But I hope that regardless of the outcome of that decision, our entire community, regardless of your stance on the bond, can look at these poll numbers as a rallying cry to get involved. All of our schools are in desperate need of parental and community involvement — ask any of the schools and they’ll tell you that volunteers are extremely hard to come by and numbers are still much lower than they were even before COVID. Many hands make light work, but right now the weight is being carried by just a few parent volunteers at each school, and at some schools, by just the teachers.

My hope is to see a day where we would have PTA and PTO meetings packed full of involved parents, long lists of volunteers lining up to help with school activities, gymnasiums that are standing room only for sporting events, and a community that is hyper-involved and invested in the success of our students. Teachers, parents and community members working together to make our school system the best it can be. The good news is there’s still time to make that come to fruition — but it’s going to take all of us linking arms together and making space and time for our students and our schools as a town. Without the involvement and ownership in our schools from our entire community, we’re doomed to fail — not only in passing a bond, but in encouraging and raising up this generation of students in Oak Harbor. It is the local community that needs to own the commitment to education, and ask themselves “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”

So I challenge each one of you, especially parents of students in our schools, to find a way to get involved before the school year is over. Go to a PTA meeting, offer to help with an event at a school, cheer on one of our teams at a sporting event, go to a school board or District Parent Advisory Committee meeting, get a volunteer badge and help in a classroom, attend a drama performance/band concert/art exhibition/choir show — the opportunities are endless, and our schools and students will be so much better for your involvement.

And then, when the next school bond ballot arrives in your mailbox, please take the time to fill it out and turn it in, regardless of your vote. Set a good example for the kids and exercise your privilege to vote. The only thing worse than a vote that isn’t in support of our students is one that wasn’t even given the effort of your consideration. Our children deserve at least that much — to just feel remembered and deserving of your time. I think that’s something we can all agree on.