The following is the first in a series of articles by local moms about the educational mess in which the Huntsville City School District currently finds itself. Over the following weeks, we hope to post a variety of viewpoints about how we ended up here and what solutions we, as parents, can bring to the table. If you would like to contribute to this dialogue, please contact us.
And Let Them Lead The Way
I live in a pretty progressive town, when you consider that it exists in the buckle of the bible belt. We are southern, no question, as attributed by our barbeque festivals and massive churches, but we’re also metro too, with our transplanted rocket scientists and biochemists who came here — get this — for our SCIENCE.
So we have a fair amount of open-minded folks here, and we consider ourselves fairly progressive, and definitely more progressive than most of our neighboring cities.
But one place that we seem to have failed miserably is our school system.
While Wisconsin is fighting for teachers’ collective bargaining rights and Rhode Island is dealing with an ENTIRE school of teachers being laid off at once, we have our own distraught situation here: our local city school system is insanely in debt. Almost $20M in the hole.
Well, like any institution, when that much money is on the line, we began looking at Reductions in Force (RIFs). About 230 cuts were made at the end of last school year, with another 50 or so here recently. Most of these positions are not necessarily teachers, but vital support positions nonetheless. Because, in reality, overstaffing is not the reason we’re overbudget.
Another cost-cutting measure being batted around is consolidation of schools that aren’t well-attended. Again, this is standard of any corporation or public sector that is hemmorhaging financially. However, this stirred some ire in local affinity groups, most recognizably the NAACP, who is attributing this to racially motivated decisions.
And This is Where I Start Getting Pissed Off
Huntsville was the first system in Alabama to voluntarily integrate. We had our “check-up” with the national Justice Department a few weeks ago and while I wouldn’t say the results were shocking, I’m curious as to how we’re supposed to fix it. Things like “opportunities” being unequal? Disciplinary actions being unequal?
Look. Although not an educator myself, I’ve been deeply rooted in this school system from grades 5-12 and then through most of my adulthood. Some of my closest friends are educators — good, DEDICATED educators, who NEVER end up working the “early hours” insinuated by the 8:00 – 3:00 school day. Educators who pour their time and their heart into their classrooms. Who tutor to help the troubled kids. Who buy their own school supplies in this time of a school system supposedly deep in debt, but somehow running $20M into the ground.
There is a crucial difference in the schools, and it’s not based in color: it’s based in home life. It’s based in parental involvement. I don’t see the Justice Department doing THAT study, because how could they? How could they tell some of these ENRAGED parents that, you know, you could do something to help as well? You could try reading to your kid. Asking about their day. ENCOURAGING THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL AND PERFORM WELL.
ENCOURAGING THEM TO TAKE THE OPPORTUNITIES THAT ARE ALREADY THERE.
ENCOURAGING THEIR KIDS TO GET EDUCATED. TO BREAK THE CYCLE.
How to Get it Right
In sort of related news, a school that I attended when I was younger held their yearly Fine Arts Festival recently. I’ve taken Tony every year since he was born, even though he’s just now getting old enough to enjoy it.
This is a school that’s done it right. It’s a Magnet School, meaning it has “specialty” studies that you engage in when you attend there. This school focused in the arts; there are also foreign language and science Magnet Schools in town. They are placed in low-income areas, housing projects mostly, and students from surrounding affluent neighborhoods are bussed in. A percentage of the student body is also comprised of children from the low-income areas. All students, regardless of race or income, are required to apply and meet criteria to attend. You must maintain a minimum grade-point average to stay there. You must be involved in a specialized study. And most importantly? The parents are required to volunteer a certain number of hours every year.
This required involvement? Forces the parents to be involved. It makes for a thick, sturdy, colorful tapestry of races, ethnicities, incomes. As a result, I saw people that I went to school with – some fifteen years ago – there with their kids. It spawns generations of involved parents, ones who understand why it pays off. Bryan looked around at the diversity at the festival – ages, colors, talents – and said, “Yep, I would like Tony to go here.”
(As if there was ever any question. Tony decided that for himself on the Academy for Academics and Arts stage a long while ago.)
I guess my rant is this: until we start taking responsibility for our children – 24/7 responsibility, not just responsibility when something goes wrong – we don’t get to complain. There are people out there taking full responsibility for our children by writing inspiring curriculums or inventing new teaching methods or making learning exciting. Those people are being threatened by budget cuts at every turn and yet? They continue. They find ways to make it work. As parents, we have to do the same.
I challenge you to visit DonorsChoose.org, a charity-classroom-matching website. You can help your local classrooms fund new initiatives or just continue learning through charitable, tax-deductible donations.
Also, I challenge you to ask your children what they did in school that day. If they show interest in a certain topic or subject, take five minutes to Google it when you get home. Show them a related YouTube video. Find out if there’s a local museum. Just ask. Be involved.
BE A PARENT.