'Superman' is here

On Friday, "Waiting for Superman, the much-talked-about documentary by Davis Guggenheim, arrived in the Rogue Valley. The film follows several families who desperately hope their children will gain admission to an urban charter school through a lottery system. The story of these children and their families adds a human face to the problems raised by the film, which dives deeply into the history of the decline in public education in America.

Many education advocates are rightly concerned about the film's failure to provide solid examples of great public schools. The film highlights public charter schools even though it acknowledges that the vast majority of charter schools are no more — and in many instances less — effective than their public counterparts. But Davis has proven with another of his films, "An Inconvenient Truth," that a controversial film can raise the importance of an issue in the national conscience, whether or not you agree with the basic tenets of the film.

As an education advocate, I am excited to see a film about education — and the need to improve opportunities for all children — sparking so much conversation in our country. But I'm disheartened by the finger-pointing surrounding the film, which too often oversimplifies the conversation into one that pits charter schools against public schools, teachers unions against parents.

That approach simply won't get us anywhere, and it doesn't make good use of the exciting opportunity the film provides — to get more Americans engaged in improving our schools.

It's time to start working together for real change.

What does that look like in Oregon? Look no further than Talent Elementary School. Last year, they were named a "Celebrating Student Success Champion," the highest award given by the Oregon Department of Education, for exceptional work in improving academic achievement among special education students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students.

That achievement wasn't the work of a superhero. In the face of a growing achievement gap, the dedicated educators at Talent Elementary rolled up their sleeves. They worked together, formed peer learning communities among educators, set high standards and introduced an innovative dual-immersion program. Every day, they work to continue to improve and measure their success.

In Medford, Griffin Creek Elementary School principal and physical fitness advocate Ginny Hicks knows full well the documented benefits of exercise and the brain. She leads by example (literally) when all staff members join Griffin Creek students in jogging around the school track.

Griffin Creek's efforts at incorporating physical education into the school day have not gone unnoticed. Between 2008 and 2010, community organizations and nursing students at OHSU helped Griffin Creek integrate nutrition curriculum into the day as well. The combined emphasis on physical fitness and nutrition education earned Griffin Creek a bronze award under the national Healthy Schools Program.

Our community has countless other examples of adults coming together to help kids succeed. As a parent and a member of Stand for Children, I firmly believe that if we join together, we can start a conversation and begin the work of ensuring every Oregon child gets a great education.

You can be a part of that conversation by joining us on Thursday, Nov. 4, at the 6 p.m. showing of "Waiting for Superman" at the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, and for a panel discussion with Rogue Valley educators right after the film. Or visit www.stand.org/or and sign up for our e-mails — we'll keep you posted about how you can help.

We can write off the movie as a one-sided portrayal of urban schools with a bad solution. Or, we can start talking about the very real issues facing all of our schools today, and work together to find solutions. Our nation's children cannot wait any longer.

Katie Tso of Medford is a parent and a member of Stand for Children.

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