DeKalbs redistricting will not fix an already broken system
I attended the DeKalb redistricting meeting at McNair High last night and came away convinced that a consensus on what is best for students will never be reached. In the end many parents will be upset with the outcome because there can be no option that will please all. If nothing is done we will all complain about the complacency of the board. If they act they will be accused of acting without thinking. What we have here is a crisis in education where there is no magic bullet. Some of us will end up with the short straw. With that here are a few things I took away from the meeting.
- The centralized plan seems to be dead on arrival. Far too many in attendance was down on that option. If the board has any sense at all, that option will be off the table immediatley. I canot think of one group at the meeting who wanted any of the magnet prgrams moved to the ceneter part of the county.
- Keeping communities together was a recurrent theme for many last night. For South DeKalb, that is a battle lost. There are just too many neighborhood schools that cannot be kept open without some pain or consquence. I sympathize with citizens in these neighborhoods, but the alternatives are not much better. We cannot continue to support schools that have low enrollment with no foreseeable increase in the future. I talked with several Bob Mathis parents, and they were adamant about keeping their school open. One couple, who have no children in the system, wondered how this empty building would affect their property values. They wanted to know why the board had not considered moving students who are in trailers at Chapel Hill to Bob Mathis. Several people wanted to repurpose the school as a special needs diagnostic school like Coralwood or even add more Pre-K classess to make up for the short enrollment. I think we have to live in the reality of today. This is not 1963 where communities were close and people were raised, grew old and died in the same neighborhood. That is not a reality anymore. Demographic shifts are a determining factor here. If couples with younger kids are not moving into the attendance zone, it is going to be hard to argue to keep Bob Mathis or any of the schools slated for closure open.
- I do not get the magnet school concept. Growing up in Indiana, I do not recall special schools for certain educational concentrations. One school that focuses on the sciences, another on the arts. These were programs that were available to all students at every school. Some schools had more students in these programs than others, but it was located in the school where studenst of all abilities attended. I cannot fathom why each school cannot have a “magnet” program, or at the very least each cluster have several schools that offer these specialized offerings. It seems to me that the very idea of magnet schools goes against the belief of fairness that so many seem to espouse. having magnets promotes the us versus them mentality that is one of the core problems in the whole redistricting process.
- Many in attendance last night wanted to promote a slow down approach to redistricting. Demographic shifts mean that every once in a while lines ahve to be redrawn to accomodate those changes. Unlike fast growing counties, where an infulx of studenst mean new schools and a redistricting process, in Dekalb we face the opposite. Having fewer students means more buildings than we have students to occupy. Someone is going to have to bear that burden. The slow down or stop approach only means that parents, like me with a three year old, will have to face that process later on down the road. Far too many people countywide have the mentality of don’t upset my comfortable situation, but someone is going to have to make concessions somewhere down the road, be it 2011 or 2017.
In the end, we have to ask ourselves; what is going to make for a better overall school system? Redistricting is not going to bring about wholesale failure or success to DeKalb schools. What is going to be needed, and will be much more painfull, is a change in the way we do business. We need to challenge students and parents, especially those of us in South DeKalb, to become more involved in the school where our children attend. We neeed to show that mediocre standards are not acceptable and hold everybody accountable including teachers and administrators. Schools should be about education not a pipeline to failure. Good teachers should be appreciated, and great teachers should be rewarded. Students and parents who don’t take ownership of their education should be left to deal with their failure. The whole idea of teaching to the least needs to be scrapped and replaced with the idea of punishing those who cannot meet minimum standards and by punishment I mean failing those who do not meet minimum standards. Trying to ensure that all children succeed no matter the consequences only brings failure to all. It is a cruel sentiment but it is one we have to accept. We cannot save each and every student. We can only provide an atmosphere that is conducive to success. If you don’t take advanatge of that then you are responsible, not the schools and not society. When this whole redistrciting mess is over and is only remembered by a few of us, we are still going to have to own up to the fact that far too many of our schools are failing. That is a fact that will have more and far reaching consequences than this redistricting process.