Monday, February 6, 2012

Occupy Our Schools

I am writing this for my friends and neighbors in our city's school district - and for friends and neighbors elsewhere who are facing the same kinds of challenges. (If you have experience or advice to share, please do!)

Tonight, I went to the PTO meeting at my daughter's elementary school and heard the tough news from our principal that the city school district, like so many others in the U.S. today, is facing a gap (about $2 million) and that there is talk now about possibly having to close one of the four elementary schools.

We live about four blocks from our elementary school. In fact, this is one of the reasons that we chose to make our home in the "Center City" area - and I know that a number of our neighbors and friends make the same choice for the same reason. My daughter has walked to / from school almost every day since the day she started kindergarten, and my son looks forward to that day coming this September when he will be walking along with her. Or so I hope.

We love our school. To be honest, the playgrounds are small, the parking is non-existent (or so I hear, as I have brought the car around only two or three times en route to a doctor's appointment...), and it is not the fanciest or most modern building. What can I say? The school is like our family. We accept the quirks. They are our quirks. My sense is that other parents and teachers feel like this about our school.

So, the prospect of our school closing is, of course, painful to consider. However, I find the prospect of any of the four schools closing to be painful. Because the schools each are more than buildings where teaching and learning happen. They are the centers of neighborhoods and communities.

Also, the more I think about it, I become less and less convinced that closing a school must be inevitable. (Or not properly resourcing a library or art and music programs or physical education, for that matter.) Just like poverty is not so much about a lack of wealth, but its inequitable distribution, so it is with the funding of public education.

When I arrived at home, I went upstairs and kissed both my children, then came straight back down and browsed the Web for reading on the impacts of school closures - economic, social and academic. Admittedly, this is just a quick perusal of what I found online, but I am underwhelmed by the "savings." (However, it seems that the academic performance of kids affected when a school is close is neither negatively nor positively impacted.)

The theme that emerged in my reading is that closing a school costs a lot.

Another theme is that closing a school takes a lot of planning in public for it to go at all well. Here is a summary of a report on Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The link to the report itself is in the summary.

I am sharing the links I browsed below - in particular, I am finding esp. interesting the resources at National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, which is a non-profit, non-governmental agency that receives support from Congress, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, whose resources on community-centered schools apply (I think) to all four schools in our city's school district:

Resource lists: School closure, consolidation, and co-location (National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities)

The fiscal impacts of school consolidation: Research based conclusions (The Rural School and Community Trust, June 1, 2003)

National Trust for Historic Preservation – Resources for Advocates and Policy Makers

National Trust for Historic Preservation – Report: “Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Community through Smart Policy”

National Trust for Historic Preservation – Position on Community-Centered Schools

In addition, you can download PDFs of the following - just google the titles:

A Community Guide to Saving Older Schools by Kerri Rubman (National Trust for Historic Preservation)

“How to Save Your Historic School” by Rob Nieweg, Coordinator of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Neighborhood Schools Initiative.

Here are a couple of articles in local media elsewhere reporting on the impacts that school closures have had on communities:

The implications of closing Holly Elementary (The Rail, Holly, Michigan, February 8, 2011)

How school closure impacted a community (Atlanta Constitution-Journal, April 11, 2010)


  1. A neighboring rural school district reports on its Web page that it also is facing a gap and having to consider cut "Kindergarten, extra-curricular activities, BOCES occupational education, AP courses, food service and possibly even closing a school."

  2. Here's my question: so what should we do next? I'm with you on the not closing a school thing but what is the next point of action?

    1. Oh, my friend, that is the question.

      At PTO, we discussed that following the lead of other districts facing the same challenges, we might start by organizing district-wide in order to keep ourselves informed, as parents and citizens, and to rally support locally for all four schools, starting with our superintendent and board of education and our mayor and city aldermen.

      Clearly we will need to impress upon our state legislators that we see the unfair distribution of state resources as the root cause of the problem.

      I know that if we get a few of our heads together, we can devise some actions to take.

      A concerned citizens' organization in our neighboring district in Unatego, which also is having to consider a school closure, is holding an open forum with state senator James Seward on Thursday at 6:30pm at the Unatego HS. (See my post on FB. It looks like a few of us might want to carpool...)

  3. You can go to the Unatego meeting with Seward (and Rep Pete Lopez)--it's not limited to that district, just like the problem is not limited to that district. The legislative budget MUST correct the punishing shortfalls in the governor's budget. Go there & Speak!

    1. Thanks for the comment! In fact, it looks like a few of us from Oneonta will be carpooling to Unatego HS on Thursday. What is happening with Unatego is happening everywhere. So, we need to stand up for each other.

  4. We are a Center Street family as well. I hope that my youngest who is to start Kindergarten in the fall, has the same experiences as my first grader.

    I like the idea of rallying the other schools, parents, citizens, etc. together to protect them all. Unfortuantely, some of the opinions of parents of the other schools is very disappointing. They are under the assumption that if a school closes it will be Center Street, therefore won't affect them. Closing of any school will be devasting to the whole community, but people aren't seeing it that way!

    1. Your comment inspired a reply that grew too long :) It became my blog post for tonight. Thanks!

  5. As a teacher in the district, I am annoyed because every time this comes up in my building, Center Street is the only school mentioned. There are bigger factors to consider. If any school closes, it will be devastating to the neighborhood.

    1. Exactly! This is a system: Change any single part of it, and the whole is changed, too.

      So, Oneonta parents, how about we agree to the ground rule that there will be no throwing each other under the bus? (See my post today: Why this is not a foregone conclusion...)