The death of the neighborhood school (rough draft)
Superintendent Vitti launched a bombshell earlier in the week when he announced plans to dramatically change up to 25 neighborhood schools, transforming them into magnets and or specialty schools.
He argued that too many students were leaving for charters and he had to do something to try and get those children back. Where I liked some of his ideas, especially the one returning the teaching of trades I think Vitti and many others may be missing the most obvious solutions to our problems and that’s instead of blowing up the neighborhood schools, it’s to fix the problems in them.
What if we made our schools safer and more disciplined, wouldn’t that bring kids back? Discipline is hard and the district’s strategy of ignoring it hasn’t been working. Our middle and high schools all have ISSP and it’s time we made it a deterrent to bad behavior instead of a joke. Also in most schools it really is just a hand full of kids that wreck it for the rest, while they are facing the consequences for their maladaptive behavior we must also employ social workers and mental health counselors to get to the root of their problems which quite often has little to do with school.
What if we had thriving art and music programs in our middle and high schools and shop classes in at least all our high schools? Growing up my high school had an art and music department and you could also take wood shop and graphics, as an adult I went back and worked at the same school and the elective department was whittled down from about ten teachers to three and many kids were forced into academic electives none would have elected to take given the choice.
Furthermore growing up a lot of kids left for half the day and went to the Westside skill center where they could learn a whole host of trades. Now I know logistically that would be hard to pull off but do you know what we didn’t have then that we have now? Computers is what. If our schools had access to those classes, and I am not talking about piling kids in them like firewood, wouldn’t that bring back kids too?
What if we had advanced academic programs at all our schools? This is something the district has actually done a pretty good job at as every school has a program but since every school does have a program doesn’t that negate the need for advanced academic magnet schools?
Getting that type of education isn’t the only reason parents want to get their kids into those schools, they also want to because they are generally more disciplined and safe and the kids there are more motivated. Well if we took care of discipline, and had arts and trade programs at the neighborhood schools then that would take care of a lot of those problems and the fears that parents have?
Then at our under achieving schools, those schools that don’t do well on standardized tests what if we could make sure they had small classes so kids could get more individualized attention. Smaller classes, unlike most reforms, have actual evidence saying they work. If you told a parent that their child would be in a class of ten or twelve I bet kids would return in droves.
Instead of investing in whatever computer program du jour and by eliminating a level of bureaucracy at the district we could probably pull it off too.
Duval County has a brain drain that the creation of more magnets will exacerbate and rather than using gimmicks to fix our problems I think the district should look into investing in our neighborhood schools which at one time were the crown jewels of neighborhoods, instead of giving up on them.