Wednesday, June 20, 2007

School's Out Forever...

“Fate guides the willing. The unwilling, she drags.”

For those of you not familiar with the Duluth Public Schools, there has been a disturbance in the force for many years. All I can account for is what I have witnessed since we moved here in the winter of 1995.

My kids started kindergarten in 1998 and 1999. As I’ve stated elsewhere in this blog, I did a lot of shopping around for their school. Being neither Christian, rich, nor incredibly poor, we only qualified for the schools of the great unwashed multitudes, also known as public. We chose Birchwood because it was small, set on beautiful wooded land, and had the Core Knowledge Curriculum. It is a curriculum that respects the intelligence of kids. Just because they are little, doesn’t mean that they can’t be introduced to big ideas. My children learned about ideas, concepts, and historical incidences that I never learned about until college.

When we entered Birchwood, we knew that the school was under threat of closure. The test scores were great, the teachers were fantastic, and going on size alone, the school wasn’t economical enough to keep open. The introduction of the Core Knowledge program was their last attempt at being unique and interesting to new families in the district. It worked with us. We were not enough.

So they closed our school. We were very sad but I actually pulled my kids out before the end of the year to attend the last couple months at our neighborhood school. I wanted them to know kids and make friends. Little did I know that going from Birchwood into the Den of the Damned would be such a leap. I learned something about the school system immediately. All schools are equal but some are more equal than others.

So we opted to be different. We learned about charter schools and my kids went to charter schools from third grade on. My daughter will start high school at the Duluth charter high school next school year.

Thus, we have been kind of at the outskirts of the continuing soap opera that is the school district reshuffle that has been debated and debated and threatened and debated some more for the last twelve years or so.

I used to be a parent that attended the school board meetings. I used to stand up and speak my mind about how great our little school was. I tried, along with many others, to keep our school open. It didn’t work and we then were forced to decide what we would do about it.

Apparently, the decision has finally been made by the school board. The biggest, newest high school will be closed and the town will be divided along its historic socioeconomic boundaries. People will be screaming. People will be howling. Some people will no doubt be shocked that a process that has been taking over a decade has finally ended. They couldn’t drag their feet long enough to have their kids get through school unscathed.

Now, I would like to say one thing. Take your righteous anger and make your kid’s new school a great place. You’ve spent years going to meetings but how many times have you gone to your kid’s classroom and just sat like a bug on the wall? You might know what is going on with the building, but do you know what is going on in the building?

It wasn’t until our little school closed and I went to our neighborhood school that I learned how different schools can be. I learned that the good teachers make it look easy and one bad teacher can screw your kids up for years. I learned to get involved in what is going on in the classroom, which didn’t always make me the most popular parent, but I’ve never cared much for popularity contests anyway.

Our trip through the charter school experience hasn’t been without problems but there are far more options laid out in front of you when the school isn’t set up with the same cookie cutter answer for every child. And if you’re going to a school that doesn’t want you to know what’s going on in the classroom and discourages you from participation, perhaps you are going to the wrong school.

So, can we put this whole ugly mess behind us now? Can we face the realities of the situation and go forward? Can we all stop shouting and begin to work together for the betterment of all involved?

I doubt it…

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