Stewards

Just a thought coming out of Thursday night’s cluster meeting: We don’t own our schools.

Since some time during the last School Board Election Cycle, I’ve been worried about the widespread and sometimes uncritical use of the term “neighborhood schools,” because it has so many meanings, and some of them lead back to the phrase’s origins and uses as a term of art in anti-integration politics. That’s a whole post in itself that I won’t get into here. But I will say this: local activist Sara Barron, who I’ve both agreed and disagreed with on various points, including the ICCSD Diversity Policy, and who uses the term, said something really valuable about those differences in meaning yesterday.

“I see strong benefits to having schools located in neighborhoods, and continuing our investment in these schools as our community grows. I am less convinced by the concept of a “neighborhood” as defined by a school. Get half a mile away from a school in any direction and this becomes, to me, an arbitrary distinction. I would say after the South elementary is built, I will have three elementary schools in my neighborhood: South, Twain, and Wood.”

For me, living I think just a little farther North than Sara, my neighborhood schools are Wood, Twain, and Longfellow. This is inexact, as is anything surrounding the term “neighborhood,” but I think its a useful and inclusive way to think about things. Because if you decide that a neighborhood and a single’ school’s attendance zone are always and essentially co-terminus, then any change to the attendance zone is necessarily understood as a disruption of the neighborhood. And that point you’ve just handed over your school’s demographics to the gentle hands of the real estate market. And we all know, or should know, what kind of work those hands have done for the causes of integration, fairness, and inclusion.

Based on my experience Thursday night, some people disagree with the notion that Wood, Twain, and Longfellow are my neighborhood schools, because one of those schools is their neighborhood school, in the singular sense. They fear (wrongly I believe) that a change to its border will destroy their neighborhood, and interfere with their plans to improve the neighborhood via the UniverCity program.

I believe those fears are misplaced, and that they’re unfortunate, since they play on and amplify old fears about one of my neighborhood schools. And what I want to suggest to the people laying out those fears and concerns on flyers and in public forums is this:

This is a public school system. We don’t own our schools. We are stewards, and we pass them on to the next set of parents and children. And if we’re good stewards, we pass them on better than they were when we came to them. And, I believe that stewardship needs to be done with the understanding that they all do better as a deeply connected and balanced set of points on a larger network, not as little enclaves with guarded and tightly patrolled borders.  Yes, we should use our schools and what they offer to improve our immediate neighborhoods. But not at the expense of other schools and other neighborhoods and the network of schools, and the community that network sits in and helps create. Because your school, just like my school, is in someone else’s neighborhood too.

*Edit 4/26/14 for clarity, tone, links.
*Edit 4/27/14 with more links, and more specific details.

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Walkability, Integration, Misinformation

longfellow brochure

So, I’m hearing some unfortunate things flying around, based on the proposed changes to the Twain/Longfellow border here in East Iowa City. Some of it is word of mouth rumors, and some of it is printed on flyers distributed door-to-door by children in the Longfellow attendance zone. In advance of the Cluster Two meeting tomorrow night, I’d like to clear up some misinformation and provide some perspective and counter-information for any Longfellow parents who might read this, or really for anyone interested in the redistricting process underway in the ICCSD.

1. Contrary to rumors, Twain does have an ELP program, it’s quite an active one. Twain teachers also do a great job on differentiation in the classroom, providing challenging work for students that need it whether they’re in that program or not.

2. While the proposed change does mean that some families would travel farther to a new school, they distance they would travel is not greater than many families travel now to both Twain and Longfellow. If traveling that distance is in fact the hardship that the flyer claims, why is it ok for other families to make that trek now, but not for families affected by this change?

3. Similarly, the flyer greatly overstates the actual distance between Twain and Longfellow for rhetorical effect, in several places. Many homes within the proposed area are equidistant or nearly so from both schools. A small few are actually closer to Twain.

4. The flyer claims that there is no data available to support the idea that this change would increase socioeconomic diversity at Twain. This is not true. In fact, if you go to the ICCSD website and look at the proposed boundary changes map, and the FRL density map, the effect is clear.

5. The flyer claims that there are “certainly” ways that the goal of achieving economic diversity can be achieved without making this particular change. Yet, despite this certainty, no alternate plans are suggested. If this is the case, I will be happy to see people show up at the meeting on Thursday and propose their own changes, as long as those plans don’t require people less affluent than those in the affected zone to travel even farther, or change schools more than one time.

6. The suggestion in the flyer that families who currently own their homes in this area would rather sell and relocate than send their kids to Twain, thus “decimating” the UniverCity housing program, is both hyperbolic and, frankly, insulting. Please ask Twain parents about their experiences with Twain and its teachers before making such a claim.

7. The flyer claims that this change would undermine the Longfellow neighborhood, but conveniently defines “the Longfellow neighborhood” as Longfellow’s current attendance zone.

8. The flyer implicitly and in some places explicitly argues that “walkability” for those residents affected by the change, and for those lucky enough to live close to a school, is more important than socioeconomic diversity and the need to alleviate the barriers imposed by concentrations of poverty within any school. Is this really where our values lie as a community or as a neighborhood large enough that it contains both schools? Given the choice do we really value walkability for a few more than integration and opportunity for all?