Here it is….   8 comments

After a much-needed and long overdue (quasi) social media hiatus, I am back. And I can honestly say that I nearly lost my damn mind…more than once during the past 3 years. I have been working on developing a Visual & Performing Arts Charter School for my community since 2007. Despite obstacles, mostly political and financial, I kept going. Why? Because I consider myself to be a keen observer. I pay attention to what happens around me, especially the things that other people do not notice, e.g., home value determines both the type and number of innovative programs offered at neighborhood schools. I moved to Snellville (Gwinnett County) 5 years ago when I purchased my first home. I knew that the school district had a reputation for being one of the best in the state (not that that statement says a lot considering the national rankings, but that’s another topic altogether).

As I worked on developing this school, I began to notice a lot of subtle ‘isms’ within this county, especially as it relates to the school district, program offerings, etc. Snellville has become a majority-minority community (mostly African American) during the past 5-7 years. Most, if not all, of the schools are close to 50% African American and roughly 10-11% Hispanic/Latino. I do not have a problem with living in a majority-minority community, but I would prefer that my kids have the opportunity to experience some diversity while they attend school because, well, the real-world is not comprised of all one race. But no matter our educational attainment levels, income bracket, or automobile of choice, one thing has not changed: When we move in, they move out. Yep, White-flight is alive and well in 2010. And yes, that bothers me. Why? Because despite rhetoric and tomfoolery from the ‘experts,’ I know that African Americans do value education. I can say that the few White people I have met through the charter school efforts have remained committed to staying in their neighborhoods and changing the schools, not the demographics. Unfortunately, those people are truly in the minority. No pun intended.

So fast forward to 2010, after being told by Andrew Broy that our organizationm had to raise $1 million dollars in 30 days to ensure approval and several tersely written letters to Georgia State Boad of Education members (no responses), elected officials (no responses), Cathy Cox (no responses), Georgia Charter School Commission (no responses), and Arne Duncan (half-assed response), I am tired. Not tired of trying to improve education, but tired of trying work within (or against) a broken system filled with people who lack the knowledge and ethics to make sound decisions about the kids in my community who look like me. Yes, I said it. Too many people making decisions for kids with whom they have no commonalities. Does that mean they can’t make any decisions? Absolutely not. But representatives for all groups should have a seat at the table and not just for show. They should be invited based upon their experience, education, and potential to make substantive changes to the manner in which Georgia educates children. That is not happening. I think it will be a very long time before we see this level of change here in Georgia, even when we get a new Superintendent of Schools and Governor later this year.

I took the past 2 weeks off to decide on whether or not to continue efforts to open the charter school. Of course this project is my baby so I was torn. I have invested a significant amount of time and effort into researching, writing, etc. I have learned a lot about myself during the past 2.5 years, most importantly that no one expects me to be a superwoman; that was a self-imposed sentence. I now know my limits. I can only deal with so much foolishness, blatant racism, sexism, and classism. I need a break. I want my life back. I am not giving up this dream. It will not be deferred, just reconfigured.

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8 responses to “Here it is….

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  1. Wow. “Thank you” is what first comes to mind. Your grit and determintation and vision are an inspiration.

  2. Okay. I need help understanding a few things. It’s not that I can’t understand, I don’t think, just that I need help. What are the educational needs of kids “who look like [you]”? Vs the educational needs of other kids? Vs the educational needs of other non-white kids? Vs the educational needs of other non-rich kids? Maybe you’ve already spelled this out somewhere, or someone else has…in which case, please just point! 🙂 I guess what I’m asking is what does your charter school look like… are its goals different from the one my neighbors and I would want (I doubt it)… but perhaps its approach is, and I would really like to understand that better. Because if I can understand that, then I feel I can be more supportive of different initiatives rather than feeling that we’re all going in too many different directions that are all fragmenting. And would a charter school leave out some kids in your neighborhood, and how would that be handled? (This is a larger question I have about charter schools…who gets to go to them and how is that decided? It seems to be mostly about parent initiative, so if it’s an area where parents are disengaged, more tough luck for the kids.)

    Anyway, I really want to learn about this stuff, so I’m hoping you’ll help me know more. 🙂

    • Ok I will try to answer your questions but if I don’t, please feel free to email me any time!

      What are the educational needs of kids “who look like [you]“? Vs the educational needs of other kids? Vs the educational needs of other non-white kids? Vs the educational needs of other non-rich kids? Not sure if you have read my other blogs, but I have touched on other topics of which the general public has little knowledge, e.g., demographics of minority and low-income students in Special Education (overrepresentation) and Gifted (underrepresentation). These practices give the impression that minority and low-income students are more suited for remediation and behavior-management programa than advanced learning opportunities. Our school will propose to offer an Accelerated Schools Model, where all students have access to rigorous curricula, regardless of income or race. None of the traditional public schools offer that model. Gifted participation is largely based upon teacher recommendations and test scores; none of the districts use the culturally sensitive assessments suggested by the state DOE and reputable psychologists. That is one way that our school will be different. Our program will be school-wide.

      I guess what I’m asking is what does your charter school look like… are its goals different from the one my neighbors and I would want (I doubt it)… but perhaps its approach is, and I would really like to understand that better. Our school will also offer daily instruction in Visual & Performing Arts, for all grades. Traditional schools do not offer this. I believe that this idea is what attracted a lot of the White families.

      And would a charter school leave out some kids in your neighborhood, and how would that be handled? (This is a larger question I have about charter schools…who gets to go to them and how is that decided? It seems to be mostly about parent initiative, so if it’s an area where parents are disengaged, more tough luck for the kids.) Charter schools select the numner of students they will start with and qdd each year. Many schools have open enrollment periods and if there are more applicants than seats, a lottery is held. Yes some kids will be left out, but that happens everyday in public schools, hence the large numbers of students who are not making gains. Until public schools wake-up and admit that their methods are broken, many kids will get left out.

      • Thank you! This helps. In my totally rich and liberal and white town, we’re mostly against charter schools because we think they’re elitist. (Yeah, I know, if you could hear me now, my voice would be dripping with irony.) So one of the most interesting things about following #BlackEd and #edchat has been to learn that black communities want charter schools! Okay, so I’ve had to sit back and think about this and many other things. One thing we’ve been talking about on #ecosys, with lots of thanks to @readtoday, is how to take some of the things that work in charter schools and make them available in schools, period.

        I can’t say how much I agree that visual and performing arts belong in all schools. Even more than that I think kids need small classes and personal, relationship-based instruction. And I got sucked into #ecosys (I will blog on this eventually myself) because of a tweet I saw on how “gifted” was essentially an outdated and racist term that needed to go away. I didn’t know this, and needed to learn more, so suddenly I was in the middle of #ecosys.

        In general the concern about charter schools is that you have to enroll your kid–apply for the lottery… so if you’re on crack or just indifferent, as my son’s girlfriend’s mother is, the kids are left in the rotten schools. And the rotten schools now have even less money now that more kids are leaving them and going to the charter schools, right?

        I don’t know what the latest stats are, but the last time I researched this, it seemed that parents didn’t necessarily reward the top-performing schools. Parents chose the most conveniently located schools, or the schools with the easiest grading curves (so their kids would *look* better on college apps) or the best sports programs, or what have you. There were any number of criteria. What that meant was that if funding was based on enrollment, and the presumption was that enrollment, or competition, would determine the most successful model… this didn’t actually yield useful information about performance. Enrollment showed parents’ priorities, which wasn’t necessarily what was best for kids. I think you linked to a blog that showed that diversity is best for kids’ performance, which isn’t hard for me to believe, but it’s hard to get that sometimes without making your kid ride an hour or two on a bus. I used to fantasize that a black family w/kids the right age would move into the remote mountain town where I was living and give my kid some diversity! (There weren’t ANY kids his age at that time.)

        I’m not saying it’s not better to try to save the 500 kids that you wouldn’t save without the charter school, just worried that the other 500 are now doomed for certain sure. Maybe there can be some mechanism for neighbors and churchmembers and other interested parties putting kids’ names into the lottery? Or maybe all kids in a district can be pulled into a lottery. That would be interesting. Totally blind selection, but you can opt out if you don’t want to be there.

        Sorry if rambling. Thinking out loud quite a bit here. I am trying to see how we can be supportive of initiatives that are right for different communities AND try to mix things up so that diversity happens.

      • Not rambling, you raise some good points. In a perfect world, districts would take some of the innovation of charter schools and apply them to their own schools but they don’t. Yes, a lot of Black and Latino parents want charters because: (1) they are free; and (2) they provide choice. If districts really implemented true school choice models, charters would not be necessary. But they don’t. I was fortunate enough to be one of those kids who rode the bus an hour each way while in school (3-12th), thanks to Indiana’s 1980 Desgregation Order. If I had to do it all again, I would not change a thing. Being exposed to teachers who challenged me instead of writing me off because I am Black has made me who I am..it’s the reason I push for better school choice options for other kids. The reality is that some place (e.g., Georgia) DO NOT want to use education as the equalizer because that would significantly narrow the competitive edge. More kids of color would be accepted into and attending Ivy League schools and colleges outside of the state. Georgia’s Hope Scholarship would not be as enticing to future college students.

  3. Wow! I admire what you’re doing so much! I’ve been thinking a lot about opening my own school but then feel the same ways you’ve expressed in this post and I’m not sure if it’s worth it. How do you feel about leading & improving a school that already exists?

    • It is a lot of hard work, but it MUST be done! I have considered moving to another state for one of those opportunities to take-over a failing school, as that idea has not made its way to Georgia yet (SMH). Getting a similar type of leadership position here is based on who you know (your frat/sorority affiliation and the church you attend); there are so many incompetent and unethical administrators here with job security because of their connections. Most positions also require you to have 5-10 years classroom experience as well. I couldn’t deal with working under people who don’t respect teachers/students (some) so I left the classroom 3 years ago to pursue my Ed.S. & Ed.D. on a full-time basis; that’s when I started working on the charter school project. I am now exploring the possibility of becoming an adjunct while finishing this book! If it is something you really want to do, I say go for it! D.C. seems to have a better grasp on the whole model than Georgia (read between the lines). Let me know what you decide because there are many resources available and there is no point in you wasting time researching how/where to start if you know someone who has already done the leg-work!

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