Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Support your schools!

In recent posts, I have been making all kinds of pleas, like to love your library and to recognize the post office as an important and meaningful institution of democracy.

Today, I am making my plea to the parents in my city’s school district to get involved in a study on space utilization, which might have implications down the road for where our children attend K-6.

Last night, the superintendent spoke at the PTO meeting at the school that my daughter, a first-grader, currently attends. (I expect that my son, who will be 4 in May, will start kindergarten there in September 2012.) During the meeting, which more than a dozen parents, teachers, and school staff attended, the superintendent outlined the need for the district to undertake a study of space utilization. These included further cuts anticipated in the state budget, which has provoked the board’s interest in saving costs such as the rent paid on the district’s Main Street offices.

In addition to an inventory of how space currently is used in the four elementary schools, middle school, and high school, the superintendent said that for the sake of comparison, the study will examine the costs and benefits of two other scenarios that have been implemented at other school districts across the country with declining enrollments: One in which the schools are reorganized to bring grade 6 to the middle school, and one in which the schools are reorganized in so-called grade clusters (such as a K-2 building and so on).

The superintendent noted that enrollments were not declining in the elementary schools, with projected “bubbles” to come, based on live birth statistics for the county. The decreases in student population can be seen in middle school primarily.

He also emphasized that the closing of a school is not a scenario being discussed. He said this specifically for the benefit of the parents at our elementary school, which in the past had been targeted for possible closure.

However, the potential impacts of the district’s study on space utilization clearly matter for more than one school and one neighborhood.

I laud the school board’s effort to collect and study data first in order to make informed and intelligent decisions for the long term. The superintendent noted that a study like this had not been undertaken in more than 10 years.

To this end, I urge parents, teachers, students, and other community members to involve themselves in the process. We need to participate in every step in order to ensure both that our perspectives are considered, and that our priorities remain in focus for the school board.

For me and for a number of parents whom I know, a neighborhood school is part of the foundation of a quality education.

Unfortunately, we live in times when services for the public good (like state parks) are treated as luxuries that we can do without, and short-sighted savings seem to trump longer-sighted values. So, I worry about the kinds of sacrifices in our school that might be made in the name of fiscal responsibility and austerity.

I think it is critical that we continually ask ourselves at what cost will the savings come? What price are we willing to pay for savings? Based on what we might learn from the space utilization study, we might need to consider questions like: Will $15,000 in savings for the school district (which does not necessarily take into account the impacts on other parts of the community) be worth moving your sixth-grader to the middle school? Or: Will $7,500 be worth removing your children from your neighborhood school to a K-2 building across town? Or: How about $1,250?

It is not that I do not trust the school board's sense of responsibility or their responsiveness - it is that if we as parents and community members wish to see our concerns remain in focus, then we need to work actively with board members to make sure that they do.

The school board has been seeking participation from community members to form committees to undertake the study. (A meeting about the study will be held on January 25. E-mail the superintendent’s office to become involved.) In turn, the committees will be seeking input from parents, teachers, and students. Be sure to give it to them!

Above all, I think we need to stay informed – and keep each other informed – about what is happening. For example:

• Talk to your school’s principal and to other parents.
• Be involved in your PTO.
• Visit the city school district’s Web site.
• Click here for a PDF of the school board meeting calendar - then go! Take a friend with you. There is a meeting this Wednesday at 7pm at the middle school.
• Share and repost this blog entry on Facebook :)


  1. Just wanted to note that the Board of Education meeting scheduled for Wednesday, January 12th, has been cancelled.