Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Is Teach too good for San Luis Obispo?

Really?  That's what it comes down to?

San Luis Obispo has a national Blue Ribbon School and California Distinguished School in our school district.  It's a 10 out of 10 school, with an API score of 987 (2011).  It's so popular that we had to have a lottery this year for admissions.

...And so our school board, in its wisdom, would like to vote to close it.


Charles E. Teach Elementary was once a larger school.  In the '90s, enrollment dropped at the same time as our district had budget cuts.  So the school was moved onto the site of another neighborhood school, Bishop's Peak, which had also declined in enrollment and had extra space.  Fast forward to 2012 and it became clear that both schools are overcrowded.  This is a true thing, and something must be done.

Our district has an open enrollment policy.  As long as there's room, any child may attend any school they wish.  Teach is a school of choice, with an accelerated program for high-level learners that need an extra challenge and a different school environment.  There is another school of choice in our district, Pacheco Elementary, which is a dual language immersion program, teaching in English and Spanish.  Pacheco Elementary is also very popular, and holds a lottery each year to determine which kindergarteners will be admitted.  This year, Teach also held a lottery.  When we arrived in San Luis Obispo in 2009, our neighborhood school, Hawthorne Elementary, was full in our child's grade.  Though it is one block away from our house, we had to choose another school.  We chose Bishop's Peak, across town.

For some reason, this over-enrollment policy does not seem to apply to Bishop's Peak.  When the school became crowded, we simply "made room" for more students.  Rather than sending the additional residents to other schools, we just put more desks in the classrooms.  We have classes at both schools with 33 students.  When Teach became overcrowded, we did the same thing.  I'm personally glad for that, because my second child was not chosen in the lottery, and if a few more seats had not been made available (and a few above her on the waiting list hadn't dropped off), she would not be going to Teach today.  She would be at Bishop's Peak - an equally crowded school.

If Pacheco can have a lottery, why can't Teach?  If Hawthorne can turn away children that live in the area because it's full, why can't Bishop's Peak?

Of course that is not ideal.  It's not even fair.  How sad is it to live across the street from a school you'd like to attend, yet have to drive across town?  But if the board wants to talk about hard choices, that's one they can consider.  Pacheco is a school of choice, and though I think Spanish is a very important skill for children in California to learn, no one is arguing that children need it to be successful and happy.  Yet no one is considering closing Pacheco and poaching their classrooms.  Advanced programs for advanced students are necessary.  This is what the school board members in question don't understand.  They* believe that these children will get a perfectly good education at a neighborhood school.  That they will thrive just as well if they are in the mainstream, differentiated classrooms.  The evidence of research does not bear out that conclusion.  Clearly, the parents of Teach students do not believe this to be true, or we wouldn't be driving our kids from other cities to attend school in San Luis Obispo.  The commute is a burden on families, but we are willing to do it because it is necessary for the welfare and education of our children.  In spite of research showing that gifted children need gifted education, the San Luis Coastal Unified School District board, on the whole, simply does not care about the educational needs of our special needs children.  On the contrary, they do not even believe they have special needs.

I can't say that the board is rushing to a decision.  True, they only have a few weeks within which to reach a decision about what to do to solve the overcrowding problem at Bishop's Peak and Teach.  But they have known about the issue since September, and should have been researching and discussing it all this time.  They have simply ignored the issue.  They do not even know how much it would cost to re-open one of our closed schools to accomodate Teach, only that it would cost and they don't have any money.  They have not researched traffic options except to drive by the school, view the traffic, and conclude that yes, "it is bad."  No concrete information was presented at the most recent board meeting.  Members said they "would like to know" how much things would cost.  But no one was assigned specifically to find out.  The only concrete information that was requested was from the president - who asked the staff of Bishop's Peak and Teach to begin making a plan for consolidation and closure.

They have not even considered the option of doing nothing at all and simply capping enrollment at both schools.  At least for a year or two until a better solution can be had.  Why is that option not even on the table?  No options appear to be viable for our board president except closing the school.

What on earth is going through people's heads when they take the best school in the district and simply lay it aside to pillage its resources for the other schools?  It's almost as if our one shining jewel makes them insecure.  The more successful you are, the more you are despised.

*When I say "they" referring to the school board, I am referring only to those members who have already made their mind up to close Teach Elementary, not those who are in favor of keeping it or who are honestly trying to look at all options and make a good choice.  Unfortunately, I believe that those who can't wait to close our school are in the majority.

1 comment:

  1. You know, I keep thinking about how I speak about Teach when people ask me about my son’s school. It seems as though we have been somehow gently pressured into making less of our kids and our school in public. As if we’re supposed not to say that our kids are smarter than other kids because it’s not nice to the other people’s kids. The parents of the students at Teach have always worked their asses off so that their special children could have special opportunities. Because they deserve it and we want it for them. I wonder if this sortof apologetic, my-kid-isn’t-better-than-any-other-kid thing has leaked out onto our collective enthusiasm with respect to school events and fundraising in particular.

    I was having a conversation with a home-schooling neighbor who asked me about Teach. I heard the things I said to her and wondered if I was being too p.c. She says she has a smart kid. She wants him to have “enrichment” in his education. Why I shouldn’t I say, “You kid is smart…he should go to Teach! That’s a great place for kids who want enrichment! We offer so much more than any other local school!”

    She said, “Is it free?”

    I thought for a second. I mean, nothing in life is free, right? I explained about how much the “enrichment” costs, around $800 per child. I explained that we contribute as families, but not everyone can, so we generously work as Boosters to ensure that all the kids can have it, even if their families are too poor or too lazy to contribute. “Poor” and “lazy” are negative terms, but in only 4 letters more concisely describe families who just can’t seem to swing an extra $800 each year for each child or who don’t feel like they should have to do anything since their school is publicly funded or they are just ignoring the way the whole thing works. But, yeah, it’s free. I don’t know if it’s the school for her, but it’s the school for me. Where else can you get so much for only $800 a year? It’s probably not the best possible school, but it’s sure good. I explained about the huge class sizes, and also that it didn’t bother me. It didn’t seem to make my son’s educational experience any worse than it would be at any other school. Homeschooling wouldn’t be better, Catholic school wouldn’t be better. Any of our local public schools wouldn’t be better. At least I don’t think so.

    Why do I feel like I am expected to explain why my kid isn’t any smarter than other kids? He is.

    Why do people keep their smarter kids in schools without opportunities for them to excel, just because it may make them seem “snobby?”

    What if we collectively stopped being so apologetic about our class sizes and our smart children and our better opportunities?

    I don’t know where I’m going here. Just thinking.

    January 2011