I was reading a book about Steve Jobs the other day and how he had a knack for “focused intentionality.”
The book was written by Tom and David Kelley. David worked with Jobs on the original Apple mouse, and he said the late Apple CEO’s obsessive devotion to quality is part of what fueled the company’s success.
One time, Jobs called David in the middle of the night to talk about what a screw inside of one of his devices should look like.
“Jeez, Steve, it’s on the inside of the box,” David said.
But Jobs knew it was there, and it bothered him.
I admired that about Jobs. He understood that quality isn’t surface-deep. Sometimes it’s the things on the inside that affect the things we see, like how cheap screws might cause the box to crack.
Strangely enough, the same rules apply to our education system.
If you’ve read the newspaper or watched the news lately, you’ve probably heard about the Fort Wayne Community Schools Phase 2 referendum.
Basically, FWCS is asking for nearly $130 million to make maintenance improvements at 42 schools, including 10 major renovations, 16 air-conditioning installments, two window replacements and four roof replacements.
Heather Krebs, the district's coordinator of program controls, told the media these improvements would mean higher air quality, more security and better energy-efficiency. As a bonus, the changes won’t cost taxpayers more than we’re already paying because other expenses are being paid off at the same time.
So all we have to do is vote “yes” on May 3.
Simple. Boring. Forgettable.
If you’re a single young adult like me, it might get brushed off as another thing to do that doesn’t really affect you.
That’s where Steve Jobs comes in.
The real reason to be passionate about the FWCS referendum goes beyond basic maintenance or an act of charity. It’s a decision to invest some “focused intentionality” in the critical nuts and bolts of a school system that holds our entire community together.
When it comes to making decisions about schools, we tend to pay attention to things the public eye can see, like test scores, school rankings and teacher performance evaluations—the shiny, plastic veneer on the outside of the box.
But not investing in basic student and teacher experiences directly impacts these outcomes.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the physical environment of schools plays a “major role in academic performance.”
That means simple things like low quality air, bad lighting, poor ventilation and basic old-building issues can limit students’ full potential in the classroom—and increase the likelihood of teacher turnover.
In fact, a survey among teachers in Chicago and Washington, D.C. showed that nearly 80 percent of respondents said school conditions were an important factor in their teaching. And nearly half of those who rated their schools’ quality as a “C” or below said they would consider leaving, usually due to poor indoor air quality.
There’s an entire theory about these issues called the Sick Building Syndrome, which makes the case that a building’s maintenance directly affects the health and happiness of its occupants.
And if you think about the chain of events, ultimately, sick schools infect entire communities.
The health of public schools impacts housing prices, where people want to live and where they invest their resources in the first place. So it’s something we shouldn’t be thrifty about.
We all have to make a stand about when to spend our tax dollars and when to save them. But the same rule applies here that makes Apple products worth the price.
When it comes to quality, you get what you paid for.
HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas. HereSay@ylni.org