Monday, February 20, 2012

Taking School Rivalries to New Heights

Soon enough, the by-lottery school Youngest attends will fall to the wayside as a "school of choice," meaning it has no set boundaries, and will become a neighborhood school. It is time. A number of parents at the school have reached the acceptance stage of the "death" of the school. [I am speaking metaphorically, of course, of the school dying; it will remain open, but its status will change.] There are still many other parents in various stages of grief at the loss of the school.

In its heyday -- for the first 30 years of its existence -- the school had a different instructional program than other district schools. It was borne in the touchy-feely 70s, when newfangled experiments were underway and a group of parents wanted a return to the basics. [Interestingly, I am a product of 70s hipster teaching. I went to a secondary school that was almost completely open: no walls within separating classes, team teaching, learning (or not) at your own pace, etc. I'm grateful for that whole concept as I managed to skip classes three and four times a week for years and never fall behind. That's my memory of that kind of learning.]

The school district, in one of the clearest examples of long-range planning I've ever seen it implement, saw a way to ultimately dismantle the by-lottery premise by forcing the school to offer the exact same curriculum as all of the other schools, down to using the exact teaching methods. The handwriting was on the wall when that started in 2005.

Parents of students at other schools could rightfully say, "How come that school gets to have a lottery? How come that school gets to siphon off many well-to-do, college-educated parents and their offspring while many of the other schools have to deal with having half of their student populations be low-income and English learners? The school is no different."

Which is how we've all come to find ourselves about to see the by-lottery school be recommended out of existence and turned into a neighborhood school, where its low-income and English-learner populations will increase dramatically from single-digit proportion to 40%. That won't happen overnight because the recommendation is going to include that all transfer students at all the K-12 schools get to stay where they currently are.

Last week's second community meeting set up to talk boundaries ended with a bang. And the next day started off with a bombshell. And that's as far as my editorializing goes. You be the judge on what was said.

Father of child who lives quite close to the by-lottery school whose child has to attend a different school:

At other schools, traditionally, it’s vastly more difficult to educate socioeconomically disadvantaged kids and English learner kids. And I think that the LOTTERY SCHOOL people you’re hearing here, they don’t want to see their numbers go up to 40 percent school lunch. They don’t want to see their English learners, your Hispanic kids, go up to 43% from 5% to 6%. So I think that’s how they want to see it.

What an extremely involved mother of children who no longer attend the school said in response:

I don’t think parents choose that school because of the demographics. They choose that school because of the program. It doesn’t matter who is in the seat next to them. It doesn’t matter what color they are or anything else. They choose the school because of the program…I do not choose schools because of the demographics. I choose schools because of the program. And I think to make that statement and allow it to be made over and over again. We’ve been listening to this for a year. It’s impossible to sit here and have people basically call you a racist when it’s just not true.

The next morning, here's what the biggest champion of the dismantling of the by-lottery school emailed to the very involved woman (and copied and blind-copied nearly every school-related organization you could imagine):

With regard to your unwarranted outburst at the Master Facility Plan Community Meeting on February 15.  This has been and will continue to be an open and transparent process with regular input from the community.  While there are no clear rules guiding commentary at these meetings, your attempt to publicly and deliberately rebuke one individual persons opinion or statement, on behalf of one specific school, is particularly abhorrent given your choice of words. The only person in the room who used the word “racist” was you.  There should be no acceptance of the use of such inflammatory comments in a community forum discussing the future of our children.  That is divisive, counter-productive, and clearly wrong.  As a representative of a number of school organizations, you should know any attempt to bully, browbeat or intimidate is the antithesis of those consortiums.  “The mission of the California State PTA is to positively impact the lives of all children and families by representing our members, and empowering and supporting them with skills in advocacy, leadership and communications.”  In all likelihood, your view is one of advocacy, but the inherent contradiction between your obviously biased public commentary and past secret efforts (as documented in attached Oct DISTRICT PTA COUNCIL minutes regarding Charter school) calls into question your motivation, consistency, whom you are speaking for as well as representing.  The attempt to characterize another parents comments into something as polarizing and repugnant as “you’re basically calling us racists” is appalling.  With the upcoming DISTRICT PTA COUNCIL election, should you desire to continue to publicly act in such fashion, I would ask that you seriously consider your ability to fulfill the mission of the organizations of which you are a representative.

Now, class, please let me know if you think any of them is in need of a good long timeout.

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