Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Danger of Ignoring Issues of Race

The PI has a thoughtful piece today, School closures bring out worst in us, by columnist Robert Jamieson, which directly addresses the racial issues involved in both school closures and the recent turmoil at School Board meetings.

If the new superintendent continues down the path of ignoring racial and cultural issues, including the history of school district interaction with different groups in Seattle, efforts at substantial system change will continue to meet strong opposition. The problems of the district cannot be reduced to numbers --- test scores, and dollars and cents --- and solutions cannot be that narrowly focused either.

I am appalled that activist Sakara Remmu has faced threats because of a combination of her work opposing the school closures and the racial tensions in our city that won't go away, even if we ignore them. Going forward, our work to improve Seattle schools has to acknowledge and address this distressing reality.


Anonymous said...

The district does have a poor history of interaction with African-Americans. The community distrusts the District and is angry at the District. Sometimes for good cause - sometimes not.

How can the District transcend their past and begin a new chapter? What would they have to do? I don't see that the Race and Equity Office has made any positive impacts. What should be happening?

Anonymous said...

Charlie Mas,

Don't you have a child at Lowell - a school that will never be in danger of closing? If Lowell wasn't available to you, would you send your child to another SPS or go private? Have you been through the agony of your child's school being on the closure list?

Charlie Mas said...

I do have a child at Lowell, and one at Washington. Both of them are in APP.

For your reference, it was decided this year that middle school APP would be split, starting in 2008 between Washington and Hamilton. In short, our learning community is being broken up between two sites. This is essentially no different from the District deciding to break up any school community and split it between two sites except that our students are special needs students who have not be served particularly well at Washington despite being the largest program in the school - larger even than general ed. How much more difficult will it be for our students to be served appropriately at two sites, where the cohorts are half size, and one where we have to build the program from scratch?

For your reference, the Superintendent, in his Preliminary Proposal for Reshaping Seattle Public Schools, the original school closure plan, he recommended the dissolution of high school APP. He was going to end that program entirely.

As for Lowell, the District decided a few days ago to split the school for next year. The low-incidence Special Education program will be re-located out of the building. We have not yet heard where they are going - a very disturbing predicament identical to the one faced by students at John Marshall. Not only is this decision enormously disruptive to an extremely fragile set of students, this is a tragic loss to our whole community. We are two programs but a single community at Lowell. There are a number of strong friendships between APP students and SPED students, and the two programs work extremely well together and are extremely beneficial to each other.

Next year, the District will be considering additional steps to reduce the overcrowding at Lowell - steps which are sure to include splitting the cohort. Lowell IS on the closure list - last year, this year, and next year.

You may not have heard of these things because APP is a program, not a school. The District Staff can relocate the program as they please without a vote of the Board and without public hearings. It is a decision made by the Program Placement Committee. This committee meets in private, the members are not known, their deliberations are private, their processes are unknown, and they do not accept public input. If the District wants to become open, honest, transparent, accountable and engaged, the Program Placement Committee represents everything they need to change. In the decision to split APP at the middle school and elementary school level, the community is not entitled to any process whatsoever.

So you are EXACTLY WRONG when you say that Lowell is "never in danger of closing" It was in that danger this year and will be again next year.

If Lowell were not available to my children I suspect that they would be in a strong Spectrum program, such as the one at Lafayette, where they both went to school for three or four years before moving to Lowell. Since we don't live in West Seattle, the District would not provide transportation to Lafayette and we had to drive across the West Seattle Bridge four times a day. Private school is not an option for our family financially, nor has it ever been a consideration due to our commitment to public education.

APP is on the chopping block now, but I have been fighting with the District over the survival of Spectrum and APP for five years. The District, under Joseph Olchefske and June Rimmer, wanted to close Spectrum. My kids' schools have essentially been on the closure list each of the past five years and will be on the list for the next two years to come. Add to that the fact that our community gets absolutely no sympathy from anyone, gets no public process from the District, and is viewed - unfairly - as racist and elitist by people in all parts of the District, and you may see what a difficult fight we have.

I haven't written about these things here and you haven't read about these things in the newspaper because they are not regarded as items of general interest. But if you need to know, I have been in this fight for over five years now without a break. I have been to more Board meetings than any of the Board members except maybe Mary and Brita. I carry more of the institutional memory than most of the District staff. In all that time I have seen outrageous acts of bad faith by the District staff that would turn your hair white and cause your heart to burst. The Superintendent has broken promises made in writing to thousands of families, acknowledged the broken promises and shrugged them off denying all responsibility. I have pursued two Citizen's Complaints to the bitter end, one under the old process and one under the new process.

Please don't suggest that I don't have a dog in this fight. I have been in this fight for over five years and never with the benefit of press and process that others take for granted.