Monday, May 19, 2008

Jen Lakin has something to say about Schenley High School

It took until your vote in February, 2008, for me to really crystallize what I find wrong with dividing up Schenley, both the building and the kids. Your plan not only breaks the kids apart, it will, by design it seems, pit the new schools against each other.

We chose the magnet program because we believed in the idea that different kinds of kids could and do learn things from each other. I chose it because when I asked for changes or better choices, I wasn't asking just for my kid(s), but for all of the kids.

Now, I'm in a position where fighting for the best interests of my child (in particular, my 8th grader) pits me against the same kids who would have been his peers at Schenley.

To demand the best teachers at Frick’s 9th grade next year is to lessen the possibility of the kids at University Prep having those same teachers. The division guarantees that the good and great teachers have to make choices about where to be -- and I can't see how they can be fairly split in the future, either.

To demand a range of classes (CAS, PSP, mainstream, electives) at Frick is to ask for resources that will take away from the kids at University Prep and Reizenstein. Elective choices in the three locations for next year are obviously going to be far more limited than they are at Schenley. Sharing programs like Youth and Government, the musical, band, chorus, and sports for a year or two by busing kids around every day only puts off the problem that the two new smaller schools will never be able to offer the choices available now at Schenley.

You are tearing apart a family, a working community. I’m not saying it’s perfect nor that it can’t be improved – ask us! The parents have lots of suggestions.

I’ve attached several charts, showing that Schenley’s population (which is 71% African-American, 24% white, 6% other):

* Outperforms the district averages (the only majority AA school to do so)
* Has the highest performing AA students
* Has the highest percentage of college bound seniors – the most males and females, black and white

Even when the district pulls out only the lowest performing scorers at Schenley and not at any other school? Those kids still outperform 5 schools’ averages for all students, not just the lowest scorers. A cynic might suggest that the University Prep planners specifically chose a traditionally high-scoring population for its experiment, rather than the more difficult task of fixing a failing school.

Soon, if these reforms go ahead as planned problems will be faced by the whole district. Where do you think the students for these new themed schools will come from? IF the new schools populate most of the kids will be coming from the current high schools – which will then be faced with underenrollment, leading to cuts in staffing and cuts in programs. Some kids for the University Prep middle school program starting in 2009 will be coming from Arsenal’s feeder pattern. What will that do to Arsenal? You are going be faced with this same situation over and over again if you don’t stop and look at the big picture soon.

As a board you need to make sure that you aren’t receiving cherry-picked and incomplete information that leaves out both comparisons and context for the information you’re given. This district needs comprehensive, well-planned reform created with public input and supported by public buy-in.


M (not Matt) H said...

Fighting for your kid in PPS necessarily means fighting against some other kid somewhere. PPS needs to close schools and fighting to keep Schenley open is fighting to close another school. It may be better to close a different school, I really don't know. But, I do know that enrollment is dramatically down and spending isn't. I worked out that PPS is spending $18k a year for every student (K through 12). PPS better not ask me for more.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Right. PPS is spending too much and getting poor returns. Student enrollment is way down and going lower because of dumb administrative decisions. To close a good school and keep open the ones that are performing poorly and are way under capacity is stupid. And, it is going to drive more and more people out of the city.