Last week I attended one of the three community meetings (the one held at Everett Middle School) on the proposed attendance areas, middle school feeder patterns and transportation policy. I’ve also been monitoring conversation on various listserves, and comments sent to me both in private emails and posted here. So while I haven’t seen ALL of the feedback that’s been given in various meetings, online surveys and in face-to-face meetings with district staff, the picture is becoming clearer.
First, I have to say that I’ve heard very little feedback, positive or negative, on the elementary school attendance areas. A few people have contacted me with specific suggestions, such as moving a boundary a few blocks to better capture a neighborhood or provide parents with better choices (generally those comments have centered on attendance areas in Treasure Island and the Western Addition). Heading into the August 18 meeting where the attendance areas were announced, I was certain I would hear much more from people who were unhappy with their new attendance areas; the relative lack of feedback on these points has been surprising.
What was also surprising is the concentrated anger about the middle school feeder patterns. Of course, many people are very happy with their proposed middle school assignment. I’ve received emails from parents at Sunnyside, who are thrilled with the proposal that their school feed into Aptos Middle School. Many parents in the Richmond are happy their schools will feed into Presidio Middle School.
Still, families at New Traditions and CIS at DeAvila felt that the schools feeding into Roosevelt with theirs would not create a school that was socioeconomically diverse; some families at McKinley were unhappy at the prospect of feeding into Everett, which is on the state’s list of persistently underperforming schools.
What has been most troubling, however, is the reaction of parents from the language immersion programs. First, they have pointed out that it strains credibility to believe that at least three new language immersion programs could be set up and fully-staffed in less than a year’s time. Second, the immersion feeder patterns may not result in the critical mass of immersion students that would be necessary to build strong middle school immersion programs at places where they do not currently exist.
The anger I witnessed first-hand at Everett was upsetting — I didn’t agree with some of what was said, but this was a diverse crowd of parents who would have to be classified as strong public school advocates and supporters. Many of them urged either slowing down the feeder plan or tossing it altogether. Parents for Public Schools, too, has urged that the district delay implementing the middle school assignment plan because of concerns about program quality.
As the parent of a 5th grader who will be going to middle school next year, I understand that delaying the plan will remove the certainty some people were hoping for, and of course there are key questions about what method would be used to assign incoming 6th graders to schools if we don’t implement the feeder patterns right away. But I’m beginning to think that delaying implementation makes sense.
I think the questions raised about program quality at some of the schools are serious. I also think we need to do a better job of explaining to parents who are slated to feed into persistently underperforming schools (like Everett or Horace Mann) just what we’re doing to improve those schools. Most people know by now that the district did in fact receive a lot of money to use towards reforms at each of our 10 schools on the state’s list, but we haven’t done a very good job of really laying out what that will mean to parents who enroll in those schools next year or the year after. Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to take this year to articulate and begin to implement a clear and compelling plan for each of those schools — I think if families can see that reform is underway, next year it might not feel like such a leap of faith for a family from a higher-performing school like McKinley to enroll in a lower-performing school like Everett.
I do want to be clear that I remain a strong supporter of the plan to feed elementary schools into middle schools, even though great questions have been raised about equitable program offerings and increasing segregation. Extra time to sift through these concerns and respond to them wouldn’t be such a bad thing either, but if we do delay I will want to be clear that our intent is still to implement feeder patterns.
I expect there to be a lively discussion about all of the community feedback we received and about options for delaying aspects of the assignment plan at the Sept. 13 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment. I believe this meeting will be televised, and will confirm that next week.