Recently we had an election that set direction in our nation; in April we will elect four members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School board to set direction for the school.

For 11 years in the late 1970s and the ’80s I was a member of that board, and 10 of our 12 children graduated from the school. Few families here have had more exposure to RB, as well as to the whole education establishment.

As a nation we have almost two centuries of “creative tension” in educating our youngsters. Today we are having major technology and cultural changes in our local, national and international societies; in comparisons among nations we are in the middle. Our children are our heritage; we need provide them good preparation.

We also have concerns with RB, as in a December editorial in the Tribune pointing out the high ratio of debt to revenues for RB, with financial information about the school and, finally, we have the upcoming referendum proposal. The next board has some serious work.

The biggest player in education in Illinois is the legislature with the massive School Code. The next biggest is the teachers unions with their district contracts and with their campaign contributions to candidates for the legislature. The third biggest is the local boards, where citizens can have direct influence.

Who do we need on boards? A school district is similar to a business; we need to have more people experienced in business as board members. I would include bosses, accountants, those experienced in private sector labor relations from either side, those responsible for hiring new employees for business or providing apprentice training for unions, those of the professions or of the trades, etc. For community support we need to have a geographic mix and a cultural mix on boards.

Who is less useful on a board? Here I would include members of the education establishment. As a nation we have civilian control of our military; I support that principle here as well. I would have no more than two members with youngsters in the school.

A good school isn’t related to a large number of courses or to large numbers of students taking Advanced Placement courses. It isn’t established by high test scores, which measures the bright students who will test well. It isn’t measured by staff numbers with advanced degrees or by high staff salaries. It isn’t established by high spending per student or by a low class size or by the type of facilities. It isn’t determined by winning athletic teams. A good school is one that prepares all of its students to the extent of their abilities regardless of their career choice.

Currently we simply do not have good measurements as to school quality for all types of schools, other than reputation; we could do much better in defining a “good” school by using different types of testing to establish the techniques, books and staff members that truly educate by a demonstrated increase in knowledge in our children.

I have several other suggestions for voters to consider.

In the future I would suggest that the three elementary districts and the high school district should become a unit district. It would help coordinate the grade schools with the high school and should reduce costs and taxes overall.

In curriculum in high schools we need to provide more instruction in moral and ethical behavior.

Also, as a society we have tended to financially support academic careers in higher education to a much greater extent than for the training for blue-collar careers. Thus we are steering too many people into academic careers and not providing the proper training needed in preparing for the newly complex and evolving trades and similar occupations.

At the time I was on the RB Board I knew in detail local material as the budget, the annual audits, expenses, number of courses and course content, the contract, etc. I also go all the information available about Illinois elementary and secondary schools from the State Board of Education, primarily from the “research” area. I also learned about the history of education in the United States, from as many other sources as I could find. Once one has obtained enough valid information one has a better idea of what the issues actually are and of solutions that might work.

Thus I have one final suggestion. Today there is a lot of information about our school districts available both locally and online. There is also a very wide variation among districts in Illinois in size, taxable wealth per student, ratio of commercial to residential property, community characteristics, facilities, quality of education, etc. Because of that wide variation, advocacy of or opposition to an issue based on rudimentary information about an individual district is neither justified nor fair.

Today we need a handful of citizens from within the district to find and to evaluate current information from the district and from elsewhere and to tell the rest of the population via letters to the editor or as candidates for the board, what the situation really is.

That’s what most of us as voters really want!

James Keen is a resident of Riverside and a former member of the District 208 Board of Education.