Comment: Be true to your school
I was sitting through another school board meeting a month ago, just minding my own business, when I got some disturbing news. Apparently, the elementary school my child attends is bad.
From her perch on the dais, School Board Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer all but accused the school of draining away the district’s cash and with it, the hopes and dreams of thousands of other less fortunate Alameda schoolchildren, because it is small.
“You can educate kids better at schools that are larger than 280 students,” Hererra Spencer said. “The student population is more socioeconomically diverse. It’s the best way to have equity.”
About a week later a local blogger, interviewing me about a totally unrelated subject, posed this question:
Can you confirm – 1 or 2 of your children attend Franklin School?
And then, just the other day, I got a copy of this blog post from another local critic of our schools:
The most familiar agenda is “maintaining neighborhood schools” — keeping under-enrolled schools open rather than merging students from, say, the Gold Coast’s Franklin School with a different ethnic and socio-economic population in the West End. Code language for “separate but equal,” or de facto segregation.
For most of the time I have lived here, I have heard the whispers that Franklin is a private school for kids in the Gold Coast. The way the school has been described, you’d think its students were traversing marble hallways, eating organic lunches prepared by Alice Waters and grooving to live concerts by the Dave Matthews Band during Monday assembly in advance of a day of accelerated learning courses taught by Harvard profs via personal broadband connection.
But when my child started school there last year, what we got was a building that’s in such bad shape that it just might fall over if you sneezed too hard fronting a dinky play yard that contains not a single blade of grass, where I often observe my child and others sitting in the rain during Monday assembly or running around in the rain during physical education, because the building doesn’t have the indoor space for either.
The school has one rubber play ball for each class at recess. We have a principal who splits her time between our school and the district office. Special ed students receive distraction-free services in the school’s charming basement. The kids (in my child’s class, at least) access PTA-purchased computers in the school library just once a week.
Somehow, “Franklin” has become code for “exclusive,” a convenient epithet for people seeking to stoke the dying embers of the class wars in Alameda to score cheap political points. But in reality, our kids get the same basic education as everyone else, and not a lot more than that. Yes, Franklin is small. But its size doesn’t make it any less diverse than larger schools in Alameda or grant any benefits those schools don’t get.
When the district was putting together its master plan last summer, families told them loud and clear that they wanted to keep their neighborhood elementary schools. But I doubt it’s the aging buildings they want to save. I suspect it’s the community contained in each of those buildings that parents are desperate to protect – not to deny some nebulous “other,” but to hold close the friends we’ve come to know, the villages that help us raise our children. And at a time when we are challenged to provide even the most basic educational services, that’s the one thing we’ve got to hold on to.
If there are inequities in the services provided in our schools, let’s work together to find ways to address them by making things better for everybody instead of just looking for a scapegoat.