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Our report card: Would you go higher or lower?
To live in a community is to understand that life would constantly fail without the invisible contributions of others.
JAMES W. CAREY
Community, Public, and Journalism
Mixed News (1997)
Last week we published a modified version of a community report card that appeared in the Port Townsend Leader, on Sept. 5, 2007. It seemed to ask a lot of the right questions and we suggested it might be both interesting and informative for people in our community to give their own grades. I promised to give our my own marks this week. Here they are.
Noting our successes
Are we getting better at recognizing the many successes achieved in our neighborhoods and communities every week? Do we take the time to thank those who toil to make this a better place? Do we highlight the achievements, the milestones? How many times does each of us congratulate someone each week? Is that number rising or falling?
Rising all the time in each area. There is a growing stream of understanding and recognition about what it takes to make good things happen here and I hear much more gratitude than criticism. That doesnt mean everyone who should be thanked and recognized is, but it does mean many more are. My grade is a solid B.
In addressing problems, do we come up with constructive approaches that minimize the blame and maximize the search for solutions? Do the complainers simply lay out the dirty laundry or do they also suggest ways to make things better? What percentage of our complaints is accompanied by a solution or an offer to get involved? Is it rising or falling?
Again, rising. Growing as quickly as we are were bound to face challenges. But more and more people are seeing the wide variety of options available and suggesting those options instead of digging in and polarizing public opinion. Another solid B.
Expanding jobs, growing pay
Is our local economy and the opportunities represented by it growing? Are our existing local businesses adding a job or two each year? Are our job totals from gradual local business growth rising or falling? Is our average wage rising or stalled? Do residents make an effort to find what they need locally before looking outside the community? Is the number of times you look locally each week rising or falling? Do we welcome the arrival of the right kind of new business? Do we search for it? What is our standard of a right fit? How many times a year does a decision-maker actually come here to consider a move? Is that number rising or falling?
Local jobs are definitely on the up-tick. Whether the average wage is growing after taking account of cost-of-living increases puts some clouds in this picture. But we are laying a much more solid base of commercial development to address this. Future cycles of development will bring some exciting new opportunities. A C+ but definitely moving higher.
Are we more excited or less excited about what is happening in our public schools? Do school officials spend most of their time engaged in opening minds or most of their time in crowd control and handling miscreants? In what direction is that balance shifting? Are our kids challenged or getting by? Are the enrollments in alternative programs growing or declining? On the adult education front, are the numbers of classes offered locally growing or shrinking? Are there more or fewer vocational courses? Are there more adult learners staying or going?
Arlington, Lakewood and Darrington school districts have been solid performers during recent years when Marysville School District was getting a black eye. But those years are long gone. Under Superintendent Larry Nyeland and teachers, staff and administration and support from the community, Marysville is rocketing ahead and is on the cusp of some truly amazing achievements. Alternative schools in all districts have had remarkable achievements all along. Adults here are also participating in numerous self improvement programs like those offered by the YMCA and numerous other groups. We could use more reading groups but on the whole another B and trending upward.
Are our average wages and average home prices moving toward each other? Are homes becoming more affordable or less affordable over time? If the market is inexorably pushing them apart, are our government agencies or nonprofits offering real solutions putting people into affordable homes? [Here we would insert a question: Are financial institutions moving away from failed mortgage financing options toward still effective yet sustainable options for accomplishing home ownership?] How many new homes are there each year for people who otherwise cant afford one? How many minutes are our local government officials spending to research and discuss this issue each year? Is that time increasing or shrinking?
Acknowledging that Port Townsend is a probably a more liberal community than ours, this set of questions implies a bias toward government intervention in an area most residents here see as not the governments business. Still, affordable housing is a growing problem here that many feel has not been adequately addressed. The one low spot in our report card because it is a knotty problem that isnt getting better. Grade: C-
Are our elders well cared for? Are they happy? Are their lives rich and getting richer? Or do they feel pushed aside? Do they have more of a voice or less of a voice? Do our disabled, our extreme poor, our helpless get the help they need? When the truly desperate need help, do they get it or do they get the final runaround?
Marysville in particular has long had some of the best elder care facilities in Snohomish County. And the level of quality in virtually all of our area professional facilities is high enough that it may create an illusion that all is well in private homes. Our older populations are under-reported on, which contributes to this as well. Many are struggling mightily with health care issues, loneliness and quality of life issues. So the grade is a high B for what we see and perhaps much lower for the invisible face of aging.
Do young people feel more appreciated here or less? Do more come to forums to discuss local problems or do more stay away? Are there more people younger than 32 on committees or boards or advisory groups, or fewer? Are there more venues for the young, or fewer? Do they have a greater stake or a shrinking one? Are a higher percentage choosing to stay or to go?
Anyone who has any connection with our younger population knows what a talented and high-quality group it is. Yes, yes, we still have a share with problems but schools, churches, civic groups and the kids themselves are raising the bar on living here. The attitude of inclusion and interaction on the part of older folks is also markedly improving. Another B.
Are there more opportunities for more people to express their creativity and create their expressions, or fewer? Are you hearing more poetry in the course of a year, or less? Is your ration of TV time to reading time moving in the right direction or the wrong? Is the library checking out more books or fewer? How many learn to play a fiddle or piano each year? Are local audiencesfor live events growing or are we shrinking into the flickering blue light of television sets?
The is a large and growing contingent of creative folks here. Our Arts and Entertainment section is packed with local names over the full spectrum of ages, who are doing remarkable things as to creativity. The literary arts writing, poetry, playwriting, etc. is still not much in the spotlight outside our own area, but all components of the creative life here are trending upward. Is the TV still on too much? Probably. But hey, everyday there are more and more local things of real value and interest happening to turn it off. I wrote down a C+ but I could be talked into a B-.
So that is my own admittedly subjective shot at grading our community. Do you go higher or lower? How come?
To contact a member of The Marysville Globe/Arlington Times editorial board
Kris Passey or Scott Frank e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.