A little bit about a lot of things:

• Standardized test scores in our local school districts are published once again.....Gustine reviewed theirs several weeks ago before the school board and Newman-Crows Landing results appear in this week’s edition of the West Side Index.

Suffice to say that the results show there is plenty of work to be done in each district.

But I have also had some candid conversations with local educational leaders in recent weeks about a real-world concern that I share surrounding test scores, and that is the question of whether the tests measure what students truly need to know in life.

Relevance, I believe, is the buzzword that applies.

That’s not to give either of our local districts a free pass on their test scores, which frankly are concerning....in some cases for where we stand, and in others for lack of growth in recent years.

Both districts need to improve, and to reach a point where steady, consistent gains are being realized.

Against that background, though, I wonder whether students are being asked to learn (and are tested on) what they truly need to know or being taught material beyond their years in the first place which may not even be something that serves them well in the real world.

I did exceptionally well on standardized tests (yes, they had those when I went to school) but that didn’t necessarily make me any smarter or better-prepared than anybody around me. I suspect that a lot of test questions that I knew the answer to didn’t help me out much later in life.

There are basic skills that we all need to be successful. They include a fundamental mastery of math and English, skills which no student should graduate without. And certainly more specific, detailed courses of study once the basics are mastered help round out young adults and often speak to specific individual interests.

But success in today’s world also requires communication, problem-solving and critical thinking.....skills which can be instilled or enhanced in an educational setting but are difficult to measure on a standardized test.

Make no mistake.

Our local schools have hard-working staffs and are doing many wonderful things, but have always have room for improvement.

While the assessment tests are an indicator, I have to wonder if they reflect systemic flaws. It’s not like very many schools are knocking them out of the park, after all.....although the fact that many other districts are out-performing ours suggests that we, too, can do better.

Filling young minds with knowledge is critical.

But I sometimes worry that we’ve lost what should be a fundamental focus - that of making sure that first and foremost students are well taught in the basics. Doing so empowers them to do more. Failing to do so limits them in school and in life.

So what’s the solution? People smarter than me (and there are plenty out there) will have to answer that question.

• Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District voters will have their say on a $35 million school bond measure next March.

The district certainly has many facility needs, including new locker rooms at OHS and a multi-purpose building at Von Renner, and if they could throw a pool into the mix as well that would be a big bonus for the community. Those are likely projects that will be at the forefront.

But I’m a little less than thrilled at the general nature of the project bond list. It covers pretty much any facility-related project that the district might wish to pursue (as well as potential debt repayment and consideration of staff housing) but as I understand it doesn’t expressly bind the district to any single project.

Apparently that is just the way things work in the bond world, although I have to think there is a better way. I do believe that the district will more clearly identify and prioritize its intended projects before voters go to the polls, and I point out that school leaders have used past bond proceeds judiciously.

That said, it is imperative (and only fair) that voters know going in exactly what they will be getting for their hard-earned tax dollars should they approve Measure K, with no ambiguity.

• Nice event Sunday in Gustine, where parishioners at the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles celebrated the parish’s 100th year.

A special mass, social time, historical displays, luncheon, entertainment and much more were all part of the well-attended event.

Churches are an integral part of our towns, weaving together faith and community.

Certainly, Our Lady of Miracles is synonymous with Gustine itself....a parish known not only for its strong church but the parochial school and the celebration which both share the OLM name.

Wonderful event Sunday to honor and celebrate a legacy built on faith.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.