Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2001

Great forum, disappointing turnout

May 10, 2001

When my wife Heidi and I moved to Eudora, one thing became imminently clear: family and kids are the priority for Eudora residents. We were struck by how many of the town's activities centered on family life. So we figured when a speaker was coming to town to talk about how to protect kids in our schools, Eudora High's gym would be filled with concerned families. So much for that.

The paltry attendance at last week's community forum, with national speaker and Columbine school district administrator Richard Veech in town was embarrassing. Sure the weather was bad, and yes, it was a school night, but those are weak excuses that won't stand up should something awful happen here and we could have prevented it, don't you think?

Only 100 people had the wisdom to show up and hear riveting descriptions of Columbine stories. I bet most if not all left feeling thankful they'd attended and I bet they held their children a little tighter that night. Among the folks in attendance were a couple of planning commissioners, including Rod Moyer, who worked so hard to bring Veech in for the community. Not one city council member or the mayor saw fit to attend. And don't give me the old "sunshine and open meetings act" excuse, because certainly an auditorium is a big enough room to seat officials on opposite sides to prevent an appearance of an impropriety. How many council members are at church on a Sunday? Does that violate the open meetings act?

It was especially disappointing because Veech talked about the need for community partnerships. These partnerships include parents, students, teachers, school staff, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement, the media, the religious community and yes, parents. There's no partnership when one or many partners don't hold up their end of the bargain.

Last spring I hosted the Jaycees talent show and remember being a little surprised that despite the event being held at the school, only one representative from the school was in attendance. It happened to be Moyer, (again), who was one of our judges. The Jaycees have long sought better relationships and support of its activities. Veech's forum was an opportunity to support a school activity, and unfortunately, I didn't see many Jaycees members in attendance.

So my question today is what does it take? What does it take to get people excited about community events? Are we so wrapped up in our own lives that we can't take a moment for something that will enrich our lives and possibly prevent Eudora from being mentioned in the same breath as Columbine, Springfield, Paducah and now, El Cajon? Have there already been so many incidents of school violence that we aren't shaken to our core when we hear about them?

How is it that 5000 people, at least half from Eudora, will attend (rightly so) a football game in the fall, but only 100 would attend a forum on preventing school violence and what to do if it happened? What does it take?

Bill Folks has worked very hard in the past on Eudorafest, only to see sparse attendance. Sure, the CPA picnic is well-attended, but when it comes to something that will make a difference in Eudoran's lives, like the recent election, only 20 percent of them turn out to vote. This on the heels of the closest presidential election ever. What does it take?

I wish I knew. How frustrating must it be for the school district to do something truly special and bring in an outstanding speaker, only to have the community turn its collective attention to the last episode of Survivor? The importance of being a survivor could take on a whole new meaning when it's your child's school that leads the national news. And again, you're on the couch watching the tube. What does it take?

My wife is due in June with our first child. While we're concerned for his inevitable safety at school, we're confident he'll be fine. The school district here has updated and upgraded its crisis plan. I just hope we don't have to rely on a community partnership that is more concerned about some ridiculous reality television show should something terribly wrong happen. Let's hope it doesn't take that to open our eyes.

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