Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Somebody Else’s School

Johnny Calcagno here, parent of a third grader at TOPS, and since Raj’s Reshaping Plan in 2005, a junkie of School District politics, unfortunately. Thanks to Beth for sharing her Blogger toy.

Over the last year and half I have been struck by how seemingly easy it is for many otherwise well-intentioned people to attempt to alter, close, consolidate, and otherwise mess with the schools of other people’s children. The reasons given are varied: “We need to close the budget gap” or “Their test scores are too low” or “We haven’t closed schools in a long time, so unfortunately, we have to do so now” or “That school can move to that other building, they’ll be fine.”

Not surprisingly, the parents of children affected by proposed changes are not very happy. Parents are angry and protective lions, as well they should be. Who wouldn’t stick up for their kids, in the face of disruption and forced change? Does anyone really think that parents want to hear (or have their children hear) that their chosen school is a failure, or that their school must be sacrificed for the greater good?

I’m a little surprised by the lack of solidarity and empathy among the families of non-affected schools, but even more stunned by the lack of leadership among public officials.

I’m forgiving of the non-affected families for not speaking out and organizing. Few of us have time for that. I do wish that I saw more empathy for the tremendous disruption that this process causes in the affected communities, from time spent making signs and writing speeches, to finding time for meetings, to navigating the difficult choices about which new school to attend, to the painful goodbyes and transitions that the parents and kids must endure.

I’m even forgiving of the School Board, who are, as has been pointed out on this blog, ill-paid volunteers that can’t be expected to take a truly professional and analytical approach. Sure, they did ask for the job, but what a truly difficult and ugly job it is right now.

But where-oh-where is the city, state and national political leadership right now? Can we really be seriously talking about tens of billions of dollars in transportation infrastructure, hundreds of billions in war and military costs, and historically low upper income tax rates, while at the same time asking families to sacrifice their time and emotional energy trying to save their school? For crying out loud, we don’t need to close schools right now, we need to pour resources in as if our lives depended on it.

Yes, the Seattle School District could be more efficient. But the same can be said about almost any private and public enterprise. With schools, though, we are talking about our children, our future, our families. There should not be a higher priority, and if we have to err on one side or the other, let’s let a little inefficiency slide, while at the same time doing everything possible to help struggling schools and families get better. I’m sorry, you don’t help families by playing musical schools.

To those of you who say we must close or consolidate some schools right now (despite the fact we don’t actually have a declining enrollment), I ask you to describe a fair, intelligent, and truly empathetic process to make that happen.

I don’t believe in forced closures, but if I had a gun to my head, I would start with the targeted families and the schools and ask *them* how they would want to proceed, and ask *them* what they need – financially, academically, and emotionally – to best make that transition. I’m not talking lip service, but a specific process that would give affected families something in exchange for the disruption. It’s only fair, and something we would all want for our own families.


Anonymous said...

As a parent of a child in an unaffected school who talks on a daily basis to many other parents of unaffected schools, I can tell you there does exist a great deal of empathy for those affected by the school closures. For me personally, I think a few of the suggested school closures make sense - when a school is half empty and demographics prove that it is due to a large decline in school aged children in the neighborhoods is the cause, it makes sense. When a school is being closed because all the kids in the neighborhood are going to private schools or to schools outside their reference area because the school is perceived as bad - then I think more investigation should be made with what is going wrong with that school.

As for the schools proposed to be shut down when it seems the motive is "because we need more schools to close down to show the State we are doing something so they will legislate for more money" or "because we need to try to not look like we are only impacting children of color so lets close a full white school" or because another school needs a nicer school, so lets just invade this other school....etc etc. When portables are mentioned or predicted increased child population in the area - it all infuriates me.

Do I have time to protest, attend the meetings, etc. etc. when it doesn't affect my child? No - I have a hard time right now balancing my schedule as it is w/3 young children. Would the priority change quickly if my child's school was affected? Of course it would. Do I visit this blog (thanks Beth) along with several other websites daily to stay in the know and making sure nothing is going to impact my child's school - of course.

My oldest is only in Kindergarten and it really made me nervous to do SPS given what it is going through. Her school has lost a lot of potential students to private due to the negative publicity and uncertainty out there despite her school being a really good one. I love that we can walk to school and feel a part of our community and I really hope SPS does not mess it all up. I feel for the families that it has messed with WHEN the closures in question don't make sense.

Anonymous said...

I will say that some schools should be closed. Some schools should have been closed years ago.

Part of the deal with school choice was supposed to be that schools could fail. That's where the accountability was supposed to come from. Read John Stanford's book. When a school cannot attract enough students, the District was supposed to close the school, re-invent it to be more responsive to the community's needs, and re-open it. The District never did that.

I think they didn't do it because the voice of one principal carries more weight with them than the voice of three hundred families.

So they leave M L King Elementary School open even when no one names it as their first choice for assignment. No one. There was a year when the number was ZERO. It hasn't been as high as 10 even once in the past six years. But rather than close the school, re-invent it and re-open it, the District tries to compel people to enroll their children there. The District assigns students to the school when the student cannot gain access to any of the five choices they list on their enrollment form. Typically the family refuses the assignment and enrolls their child at a private school.

This refusal to close schools, re-invent and re-open them is why we don't have three TOPS and three John Stanford International schools around the city, and why we cannot duplicate any successful program. It is why students have to ride buses around, particularly south to north, to gain access to desirable programs. It is why the District's market share is so low. It is why the District's reputation is so bad.

And the problem, the flaw at the root: Seattle Public Schools is structurally and culturally incapable of responding to the needs of the community it purportedly serves.

So instead of a re-invented M L King that people choose for their children over private school, the District simply closes the school. There. Is everybody happy now?

Anonymous said...

This, unfortunately, is why the affected families are the last ones objective enough to be involved in this process ( just like parents are the last people in the world qualified to judge their children). You ask for a fair, intelligent & empathic choice. Im sorry, but when cuts have to be made their is no room for fair or empathic, only intelligent.

Taxpayers are allready stretched to the hilt. You are not getting any more money, period (the CURRENT per pupil spending is vastly too high as it is). Bringing up issues of transportation spending, Iraq etc is at best infantile. Those are seperate decisions that have nothing to do with school funding.

The facts are this. The Seattle school system is terrible end to end (the so called good schools are only good compared to the bad ones). Anybody with the financial means & a lick of sense has gotten their kids the hell out of there.

Anonymous said...

"The facts are this. The Seattle school system is terrible end to end (the so called good schools are only good compared to the bad ones). Anybody with the financial means & a lick of sense has gotten their kids the hell out of there."

This quote is obviously from someone who has not looked closely at every school - there are some really good public schools in our district and I have plenty of friends in good private schools for comparison.

I also have a sister with a child in what is considered a very good public school in a very wealthy Chicago suburb and I compare what they do in Kindergarten vs what my daughter does and my daughter's SPS is much farther along....

I'm sorry, I had to post because I take offense at that statement, and I'd like to see facts that support it.