Tonight I attended a panel discussion hosted by Marin Day School’s UCSF location in Laurel Heights. This is an annual tradition begun by Lisa Krim, a former Marin Day School parent and now a Claire Lilienthal parent, over six years ago. The 120 chairs in the large room were almost all filled, and I asked Lisa how the turnout compared to the early days — she said that the first few years only 20-30 parents would show up; tonight’s turnout was more like 100.
There’s been a paradigm shift in the middle-class attitude towards public schools in this city, just in the five years since my older daughter entered Kindergarten. Certainly, the uncertain state of the economy the past year or two has played a role in encouraging parents to take a closer look at their public schools, but I also believe a deeper shift has happened — I think parents with options are beginning to believe that we actually can do a good job educating their children.
On the other hand, the inequities still exist, and tonight’s experiences just reinforced my belief in the work we are doing to reform the system. There were just a handful of families of color at tonight’s meeting, and after my brief update on the assignment system redesign, one woman approached me and expressed deep concern about how few African-American and Latino families participate in our current assignment process. Apparently the security guard at this woman’s apartment building was surprised to hear that she could have chosen schools outside of her Bayview neighborhood for her young son. Now, there are many reasons why a lot of families who live in the Bayview choose to send their children to their local schools, but ignorance of other options shouldn’t be one of them. The lack of awareness and outreach to our most underserved families is one huge problem with our system, but there’s another, deeper flaw: choice, when used as an assignment mechanism, presupposes that a family has the wherewithall to actually CHOOSE – that they have the means and the education to research and evaluate options, and that their situations are flexible enough (transportation, flexible work schedules or one parent not working) in order to consider a broad range of options. So again, tonight I was reminded that the work we are doing to reform our system is ultimately about equity and a level playing field for ALL families.
I answered a few questions from the audience, related to memes that are apparently circulating the Internet:
- Are schools going to be closed? NO. School closures have not been on the table in any budget conversation I have had either at public Budget committee meetings or in private conversations with the staff. It has been demonstrated to me over and over again that closing schools saves surprisingly little money — students still have to attend school somewhere, those students still need teachers, and you still have to maintain buildings.
- Will class size be increased? As most people know, the district did raise class size to 22 for Kindergarten and first grades in 2009-10. Anecdotally, I am hearing that few K-1st classrooms are actually at 22 students, though if we continue to receive mid-year transfers in those grades, those class sizes could creep closer to the limit. For me, and I think a majority of Board members, class size and teacher layoffs are the absolute last resort, and we would have to have cut other areas absolutely back to the bone before I will entertain class size increases.