Here are my comments from the board meeting tonight about the Pathway to Greatness vote:
We are a district of 46,000 students and about 30,000 empty seats. Those seats weren’t empty 50 years ago during segregation. But then there was the botched busing plan, white flight. The northeast quadrant was neglected. The booming southside was largely ignored. We had a revolving door of superintendents and school board members. Charters came. Funding left. Families and teachers in pockets of the city kept their schools on life support.
We are dealing with a problem older than any of our students. It’s a complex problem that is gut-wrenching to fix.
All of us up here care about children. We are parents and grandparents. We are all affected directly by this plan, whether it’s our alma maters or child’s school or our neighborhood. This has been tears and sleepless nights. Last week my husband (very kindly) pointed out my first grey hair.
As my esteemed colleague, Board Member Ruth Veales, always says: when you know better, you do better.
I know that a mental health survey of our district found that 1 in 5 of our students report feeling hopeless, and 361 have attempted suicide in the past year.
I know we employ many teachers who are the only one teaching their grade at their building. They’re desperate for collaboration.
I know fine arts has a direct impact on growing minds, but thousands of our students don’t have art or music at all.
I know physical education improvements the body and the brain, but thousands of our students don’t have P.E. at all.
I know our reading and math scores aren’t where we want them to be, and while students do have challenges they bring with them to school every day, we must admit that we as adults are not giving them the full opportunities they deserve.
If we know these things, we must, therefore, do better. Inaction is immoral. Inaction says that these things are all OK. And they are not OK.
One question I have heard often in the past several months is, “Why can’t we wait? Why won’t you slow down.” Because students get one shot. They have one chance at third grade. One chance at eighth grade. One senior year. We cannot wait. We have been waiting for decades. One woman at the Spencer community meeting brought me to tears with her comments. She compared her community’s schools to a child waiting for the bus. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. The bus never comes to pick us up.” We must pick everyone up, and we must do it now.
We cannot wait for change any longer. Children with suicidal thoughts or mental illness or trauma cannot wait for us as adults to be comfortable. They need a counselor now. Children who don’t have access to art or music or PE or librarians cannot wait for us to be comfortable. They need teachers now.
This redistricting has been a year and a half in the making. It has been researched down to the studs by engineers, educators, community members, board members and administrators. The board passed a policy last summer that instructed the administration, beginning this year, to evaluate our district as a whole: demographics, facility usage, academics and programming, the location and physical condition of our buildings, the surrounding community, safety and legal restrictions. That same policy asks for this kind of top-to-bottom assessment every five years. Our city and our children cannot wait another 50 years.
The consequences of today will be long-lasting. We know that. Pathway to Greatness is not a panacea. It is not a cure-all. It is, however, a start.
Fear can paint us into a corner. We become so afraid of change that we cannot act for fear of making things worse. We become desperate and start believing that change will happen on its own if we just wait a little while longer. It won’t.
We have so many wonderful teachers, administrators and support professionals. We have 46,000 incredible students who are worthy of everything we can possibly give them. This is hard and sad and awful. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be heartbroken. It’s a loss, and it’s very real. We still must be willing to take one hand off the ladder rung and help pull our neighbors up. We can all climb together.