Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Battle Fatigue And Blogging

I was hoping to get a post up much earlier today but I was completely absorbed in the fight to save our Seattle public schools, particularly the innovative programs that have been slated for closure and the inexplicable plans to move successful programs to smaller facilities that cannot support the programs as they are. It has been exhausting and invigorating at the same time. When the school that you love is targeted for closure, it has an emotional impact that you just can’t plan for, but the great thing that happens is we all get involved and begin learning more about other programs that we hardly knew existed and meet amazing people who are able to come together in a common cause, our children’s future.

I will get back to the regularly scheduled program tomorrow, Denny Hastert in hot water, the FBI raiding the office of a sitting Congressman (yet another unprecedented event in American history, but par for the course in Bush’s country) more movement in the Rove indictment and Scooter Libby’s trial and I’m sure before I wake up there will be a new outrage to react to. Until then, I’ll post the speech I gave at the Town Hall Meeting tonight about the school closures. It was received by rousing applause from the audience although I’m sure the Community Advisory Committee didn’t enjoy it quite so much, but I can’t be sure since I delivered it with my back to them.

This is the tamed down version of what I wanted to say. Since I was representing a whole community, I had to tone it down a bit. Not something I generally do very well, but I think we struck a happy medium, if tilted to the left a bit. Here it is:

First of all, I would like to thank the CAC for all of their hard work. They have been handed a difficult task, and have been given inadequate information and restrictive parameters that have made it impossible to solve the problems they were tasked with solving. Quite simply, this process is a disaster. The CAC has been hampered in this flawed process by the artificial constraints put on them by the district and the school board. With fragmented information and a limit on the facilities and programs that they could consider, it’s really no surprise that the end result is a disjointed and piecemeal recommendation that does more harm than good. The CAC was not allowed a comprehensive view, so how could they come up with a comprehensive plan? These recommendations move kids around, but they do nothing to improve our school system as a whole, in fact in many cases, they destroy the programs that are working best.

As we all know, it is difficult and painful for communities to lose our schools and having those closures sprung on us, makes it even worse. A committee of citizens cannot solve the problems facing our schools, that is the job of the Superintendent, the district and the school board. It’s time for them to take responsibility, step up and be leaders, fix the problems and fix them the right way. Get experts to help work with individual schools, one at a time, involving the staff, the parents and the community in finding workable solutions, mergers if possible and closures only as a last resort, but it must be a slow, inclusive and thoughtful process that puts our children’s educational needs above all else.

We all understand that our public schools are losing market share, that we have buildings in desperate need of renovation and that some of our schools must be helped to perform better. These are problems to be addressed and worked through in a thoughtful and inclusive way, and will not be solved by randomly slotting some schools for closure and some for moving, and any process that pits one community against another should be scrapped altogether. That is not who we are as a community, but it’s what this process is threatening to bring us to. There is a better way.

This has been a one sided process with no real dialogue. Most of us were blindsided by these recommendations, I know that we at TOPS most certainly were. We have a highly successful and popular program, we were shocked that the CAC would even consider destroying what we have built. We have asked question after question and requested information that will help us understand the reasoning behind the decision to move TOPS from its home at Seward, but we have only been given bits and pieces that amount to nothing more than justifications made-up after the fact.

This has been a divisive process and if implemented, these recommendations will be disruptive to our children, create animosity between communities and perhaps even result in lingering ill will between school programs and the new communities they are thrown into with little or no thought. I know that if the TOPS program is perceived by the community as being responsible for displacing Thurgood Marshall students, we won’t likely be welcomed with open arms into our new home and the same will be true of other proposed moves and closures. That isn’t good for Seattle Schools and it’s not good for our children.

This is not the fault of the CAC, it is the fault of the process. This is not the way to solve our complex district wide problems, with division and secrecy. In order to make our public school system the best and most efficient it can be, it will require leadership, commitment, expertise, dialogue and most importantly, a process that respects the dignity of our children, acknowledges the hard work and innovative programs that are currently working, and the right of the community to have a say in the future of our schools.

Thank You.


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