Tonight the Cooper and Pathfinder parents presented a united and consistent message throughout this evening's hearing in opposition to the proposed merger. The testimony was at times moving, at times hilarious, and always powerful in explaining why a merger of a traditional program and an alternative program does not make sense.
I was extremely proud to be among that group of parents, teachers, students and other community members tonight. We stood together against Raj and his current proposal, and I believe our voices were heard, at least by School Board members.
Below is my testimony from tonight:
I am completely opposed to the current recommendation to merge Pathfinder and Cooper and create a new school, because it would destroy two quality programs, one traditional and one alternative, in an attempt to solve district facilities and financial problems.
The district faces real challenges right now. I am not trying to deny or diminish the importance of them. But how we solve problems depends upon how we frame them, and what expertise and focus we bring.
What Raj and district staff have done, based on the expertise and focus they bring to the table, is look at this as a financial problem for the district to which they have proposed a solution that only makes sense from a financial perspective. This proposal shows no understanding of the educational philosophies involved, the negative impact this type of merger would have on academic outcomes for the children involved, or the work that is involved in creating a new alternative school and defining its educational approach.
The bottom line is, when the dust settles, any recommendation for closure or consolidation must improve or maintain academic outcomes for all the children involved. The Pathfinder/Cooper merger idea fails this test miserably.
When I have mentioned the idea of a merger of an alternative and a traditional school to people in the education field, they have laughed at the absurdity of it. I have spent hours since last Thursday, when we finally received Raj’s “clarifying” letter, looking for examples of a traditional school and alternative school merger anywhere at any time. The only mention I found of this idea was in Seattle, on my blog, on the district website and in local papers. I found one mention of co-location of alternative and traditional schools in Eugene, along with an analysis of the problems there. But I did not find other examples of any school district even considering a merger of a traditional school and an alternative school.
Why? Because it doesn’t make any educational sense. Someone approaching this problem with educational expertise and focus would never suggest this solution. An alternative school, by definition, provides alternative methods of education for children who do not thrive in traditional schools. The parents and staff are there by choice because they agree with a specific alternative education philosophy, as defined by the school. Alternative schools have different ways of teaching and assessing students because some students need this different approach to succeed.
Let me repeat…this proposal for a Cooper/Pathfinder merger just doesn’t make sense. A friend of mine at work asked me to explain again why the district would destroy a successful alternative program in order to create a new one. Since I have no answer, I will ask you the same question. Why would the district destroy a successful alternative program in order to create a new one?
Pathfinder parents will work with the district to explore possible solutions to our facilities problem, but leave our academic program alone!
Pathfinder has an amazing and highly successful alternative education program. I ask that this ludicrous academic solution to what is simply a facilities problem be removed from the Superintendent's final recommendation.