You Don't Focus on the Future by Looking at the Past

You Don't Focus on the Future by Looking at the Past

Scottsbluff's Reynolds doesn't accept the status quo

Dr. Gary Reynolds
Dr. Gary Reynolds

"I'm not big into living in the past. Education is 180 degrees different than it was in the 1950s," said Dr. Gary Reynolds, Superintendent of Schools in Scottsbluff. "You have to look at the children and how they affect the future. They are the ones we have an ability to change."

Reynolds has been superintendent in Scottsbluff for four years, and believes he was hired to make the changes he knows are necessary to move the school district forward. Several factors influence Reynolds' ability to make changes, including the various cultures of this diverse community and financial constraints placed on the district by the voters.

The Scottsbluff community has had a significant Latino population since the 1800s, when migrant workers worked the potato fields and then the sugar beet fields. Many Latinos stayed in the area, and have been integrated for generations. There are also new immigrants in the area, people who have come to do the hard agricultural labor that still must be done. "The diverse population is important because we have a lot of diverse jobs, and many (Latinos) are employed in construction. They aren't afraid of hard work; in this area they will take these jobs to better themselves," Reynolds said.

In Reynolds' opinion, older people in the Scottsbluff community accept diversity better than the younger parents; the Latinos have been part of the community for decades, he said. But depending on the length of time Latinos have been in the community, there are also differences in the attachments to that culture. Some are completely Americanized; some are not.

In the Latino culture, Reynolds explained, sometimes parents don't want their kids to go to college because they don't want them to better themselves. This is especially true of the families with girls; the families see the girls as homemakers and caregivers, and if they better themselves, they might leave, he said.

Additionally, "those kids who want to excel have a tough time with their peers because they might be considered 'Oreo'," he said. That metaphor has been used in recent years to describe a person who has dark skin, but also has characteristics of the white culture; it is not generally a complimentary metaphor.

In the Latino culture, "kids get picked on if they are excelling in academics of activities; 'you think you're better than we are,' " Reynolds said.

The Scottsbluff school system continues to develop strategies to keep more students in school and encourage more to go to college.

Financial Constraints
Reynolds continues to try new things to diminish any division among children in the community. He tried to establish grade-level attendance centers, which would group all kindergarten and first-grade students in the community in one school; all the second and third-grade students in another school, and so on. "We thought it might eliminate any race or poverty issues, but more than 300 people came to a meeting and objected," he said.

Even though children of different ethnicities accept each other without help from teachers or administrators, Reynolds believes the attendance centers would have helped both children and parents to become acquainted, leading to acceptance in the whole community. Reynolds doesn't believe race is an issue in Scottsbluff; "generally, people get along well here," he said; he sees poverty as an issue, but not race.

"My biggest frustration is the inability to pass a $19 million bond issue," he said. He believes the district did an excellent job with the publicity and of informing voters how the dollars would be used. Part of the money would have been used to renovate a 100-year-old school, including air conditioning, he said.

"One of the issues is that people see the immigrant use of public services as bankrupting the organizations. I'm not sure people realize that a child born here is an American," he said.

Reynolds does believe Nebraska's tax system is part of the reason Panhandle residents are reluctant to obligate themselves for increased taxes. "The state relies 'way too much on property taxes," he said. Family incomes in the Panhandle of Nebraska are generally lower than in the eastern part of the state, and that may be one reason voters are financially conservative.

However, Dr. John Wunder, Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was interviewed about Nebraska's immigration history compared with immigration today. He said "the older folks don't think through things like school bond issues to fund education for immigrant students, but education is the way to make this work," he said. "Anti-tax increase equals anti-immigrant."

Community Collaboration in Education
Reynolds said the Western Nebraska Community College (WNCC) has taken a leadership role in working with the Latino community regarding education issues. "Our Lady of Guadalupe has a school, and the WNCC has a large presence there," Reynolds said. "We have a big job, but the WNCC is a big player," he said.

Another community collaborator in education issues is the Panhandle Community Services group, he said, and the University of Nebraska Panhandle Station is also a key collaborator.

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