More than twenty years ago, my husband and I brought our two young sons from Michigan to live in Lower Merion. We are both Midwesterners, and it was difficult to leave our families and people who said “pop” instead of “soda.”
Most of all, it was difficult to leave the schools. The community where we lived boasted one of the top public-school systems in our state. I was concerned that the schools to which we were moving would not be so strong.
But within the first few weeks at our Lower Merion elementary school, I could see that there are good schools, and there are great schools. We had come from very good schools . . . but the Lower Merion schools were great.
The teachers were top-notch, the resources abundant, and the programs cutting-edge. In fact, only the buildings themselves were in need of work, but even so, LMSD had already begun renovating district-wide and would eventually update (or reopen, or rebuild) all ten of its schools. Best of all, our property taxes were about two-thirds what they had been in our previous, smaller home.
Back in our former Michigan school district, right as we were packing up, a funding crisis caused the state to rescind, in the middle of the year, $1 million promised to the district. The schools scrambled to make up the sudden and unexpected deficit, slashing the gifted program, arts education, and extracurriculars.
Meanwhile, here in Lower Merion, the school district explored new programs and expanded the curriculum.
Over twenty years later, my two older boys have successfully graduated high school and college, and a third son, born here, is navigating high school. It has been a long time since our move, but our experiences elsewhere, good as they were, have kept me consistently grateful for the LMSD schools and the fine education they have provided for my children.
At the same time, I’m surprised by how often the schools here are taken for granted. I think of our previous school district and its eventual struggles to keep even basic programs in place.
I’ve seen some rocky times here in LMSD over the years, but the tumult was always over external issues. Never has the quality of education been questioned. Lower Merion’s schools are terrific, and the community expects that they’ll remain that way.
Times are changing, however. Every year, the budget gets a little tighter; every year, it becomes more difficult to pursue innovation in our schools.
That’s why, when the Education Foundation of Lower Merion was formed in 2006, I was relieved. Remembering our old school district, where sudden funding changes meant sudden and deep cuts to programming, I could see the need for a way to maintain quality, test new ideas, and stay ahead of the education curve.
In essence, the Foundation gives the community and alumni a way to say to its schools, “We appreciate you, and we’ve got your back.”
Sometimes, we need to step outside our bubble to realize how lucky we are. In our excellent schools, we have much to appreciate–whether we remember to do so or not.