Month 9 As a Failing School
When it was announced in September that due to our low test scores, my public middle school was now considered a “failing “ school, I began blogging about the effects that our district’s reform process, modeled after popular federal educational practices, had on students, teachers, and the school community. In a nutshell, the district assigns the label of “Focus School” to any school which does not meet certain test score cutoffs. These schools are then up for bids by any group or organization who can write a plan, and if selected, can take over the management of the school. Charters are popular bidders in this process called Public School Choice.
The district has assigned responsibility to me and my colleagues for the low performance of students in my school, in spite of the impact of dozens of layoffs, billions in budget cuts, and the soaring poverty, crime, and violence which surrounds the neighborhood. Their belief is that the threat of an outside takeover of our school will improve our instruction and compel teachers to work harder than ever before. Simply put, competition will fix our students’ lives.
Let’s see if this occurred.
This year, we began with missing personnel, due to layoffs. Due to dysfunction in the district, we were unable to be staffed completely throughout the entire year, and we finished with many positions taught by substitutes.
In addition to the regular instruction we were to impart on our students, we were forced to do so with a skeletal staff of clerical support, custodians, counselors, and deans.
New staff who arrived was for the most part forced to take the positions available in our school; see, South Central is not the destination of choice for most teachers. They like to not have to worry about the crime surrounding the neighborhood as they drive to and from work. I can understand this, as just on Thursday my car was attacked by an intoxicated person walking on the street, who was angry that I was “in his way”. This job ain’t for everybody.
The year was marked by meeting upon meeting to write the plan our school’s management bid. This involved pulling teachers out of the classroom to refine the plan. Disjointed instruction was the result.
Staff began to get sick. One teacher did not return in May due to health reasons. Another was taken off campus in an ambulance due to chest pains. Another had a heart attack at home. Yet another was diagnosed with a serious disease.
Coincidence? Causation? You decide.
While the realization was dawning on our staff that in less than one year we would be either planning a new start with our own staff, or looking for jobs elsewhere in the district, many began eying jobs at the new schools opening up in the neighborhood. In these schools, at least, the flames of reform would not touch them for at least five more years. No less than two dozen staff members then, chose not to return to my public middle school next year, and who can blame them? They have families to support, and only fools like me are going down with the ship.
Our award-winning school librarian, which has touched more lives than any other individual on campus was put on trial by district lawyers, in an egregious display of humiliation and moral decay that was the subject of many articles and blog posts. She too cannot bear to return to the job and district that broke her heart and spirit.
So what has reform done for the students at L.A. Academy? Interrupted their instruction. Stressed out their teachers. Caused a mass exodus of faculty. Placed fear in the hearts of the students who cannot bear to lose any more of their teachers. Reform and budget cuts have taken a school that was on an upward trajectory and cold-clocked it with a force from which it may not recover.
For teachers, the threat of a charter takeover is one that starts with amusement but ends in concern. We know of no charter that follows the same admission policy as public schools and is performing markedly better. So if neighborhood schools become charterized, who will be left to teach the students typically left behind by these? Our fear is for our students, not for ourselves, as we have already learned the skills necessary to survive in this society, employed or not.
A wise person once told me that any decision made from a place of fear was bound to fail. Today’s reform policies attempt to motivate workers through threats and fear and in my opinion, are doomed. I only hope to be around to pick up the pieces and continue serving students like millions of us do, every day, around the nation.
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