Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Common Question, Part Two: In a Joint and Unified Community, What Do We Do About It?

Once upon a time, there was just the one high school...
but perhaps not just this one bus. Still, a reminder of the
challenges of getting students from Point A to Point B,
even today.
     In part one, I posted a link to an Open Letter by Krista Taylor, discussing the inequities of our nation’s education system. Looking at her arguments, I was led to consider an oft-asked question about our local communities’ schools. Specifically, “Why is there such a difference in the perceived and measured effectiveness between our two elementaries in the Fall River Joint Unified School District?” After all, if we are both joint and unified, one would imagine the personnel, performance, and progress in each end of our district should be nearly identical. They are not.
     I closed that first post by noting that if we follow Ms. Taylor's logic, and I do, there appears to be one major contributor to the disparity: The rate of children living in poverty in Burney is 52.1% higher than the rate in Fall River Mills. (The stats are available at http://www.city-data.com/.)
Part of the heritage of Fall River Mills Elementary:
The Glenburn Schoolhouse was moved to Fall River Mills
to provide additional space...then repatriated to Glenburn
when there was no longer a need for it in FRM!
     The subsequent effects of the Adverse Childhood Experiences related to poverty (for more information on this, see here: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/) are among the best documented statistical factors affecting our communities. But the case-by-case, person-to-person evidence that is being lived out by our front-line educators needs to be heard, validated, and supported through greater community involvement—in both ends of the district.
     In sharing the link to Ms. Taylor’s letter, Fiona Hickey quoted this in part, but the rest bears repeating as well: "We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis."
     Some might be motivated by this to write their congressman, or other officials at the county, state, or federal level. Those measures are appropriate, and as with Ms. Taylor’s Open Letter, they may eventually be effective. In communities like ours, however, we have an opportunity to reallocate resources more flexibly and effectively within the district and the community.
Among the "signs" of improvement at
Burney Elementary School.
     But who can tell us what needs to go where and how? Here's what Ms. Taylor suggests (with which I wholeheartedly agree): "I hope that you will consider the issues raised here, and most importantly, that you will listen to the voices of the teachers and parents who are trying so desperately to be heard."
     One organization that does seem to listen is the Burney-Fall River Education Foundation, which I regularly support and I would encourage you to do the same. But more of us need to listen to the answers from our educators—even if we are afraid to ask them, "What resources do you need?"
     Does asking that question frighten you a bit? Good. Because it terrifies me…especially being married to a teacher who regularly handles twenty-five transitional kindergartners—four and five year-olds—without a net (other than two very capable aides. One is available to her for an hour on most days. The other for twenty-five minutes). I think that we may share the same worries about asking this important question. I believe that you probably know what I know: that a big part of the answer to what our educators, families, and children need is:
      "You. And. Me."

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