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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Suspension Centers part 2

Suspension centers made the paper today, this is a piece I wrote about them at the begining of the 09-10 school year. -cpg

As the school year begins I think it’s time we revisited the suspension centers that the school board created last year and just so you know that as things presently are I think this is a terrible idea and the school board should be embarrassed for coming up with and implementing it.

To be fair, if we disregard the fact that being suspended is supposed to be a punishment, suspension centers in a vacuum doesn’t sound to bad. To me it’s kind of like getting the undercoating when you buy a new car. If you have lots of money and nothing else going on, then sure why not splurge. However, that’s not how things are in Duval County. The reality is we have very few resources and lots of serious problems. This means having suspension centers is like complimenting Nero’s fiddle playing while Rome burned to the ground. Sure the music might sound delightful but the city was experiencing a few more pressing matters at the time.

As a teacher I am constantly learning, trying to pick up bits of information or techniques that will help me in my classes. Last spring I learned something very important. I learned never to be eating or drinking when I read articles about our school district as I almost choked to death when I saw how much was budgeted for the four suspension centers that can at one time hold a maximum of 150 students. By the way that’s a number they didn’t come anywhere close to having, and most like never will. If they were run by nonprofits and didn’t cost the tax payer anything I might be okay with it but they aren’t, you see the suspension centers have a two million dollar budget.

Suspension centers are a new program designed to keep students when they are suspended off the street. This way they won’t fall behind in their classes and they won’t get in trouble, a pretty good idea right. Here is another idea, instead of asking them to go to a suspension center where they won’t have their class work anyway, DON’T SUSPEND THEM! What is the difference between keeping them in school and hoping they attend a voluntary and yes they are voluntary, suspension center? I’ll tell you what it is, its two million dollars.

At first I was flabbergasted but as soon as I stopped choking I knew I shouldn’t have been that surprised. You see this kind of misallocation of resources for our district this is pretty typical.

My friends sometimes plead with me not to write about educational issues. They worry that I may lose my job or there may be consequences for me being critical. Which I reply, criticism of the process should be encouraged. It can expose inequalities and the need for change, besides we should never fear the truth. And the sad, simple truth is suspension centers are an unnecessary luxury.

Friends two million dollars could pay for about 20 new teachers, or social workers over two years, or hundreds and hundreds of after school tutors and extended day workers or some combination thereof. These new employees would be in the position to affect thousands of children daily not just the 150 suspension centers would serve if they were at peak capacity. What do you think will make a bigger difference on education or in our community: Voluntary suspension centers that can be attended only by a few students or the options above?

Often kids act out because they don’t understand or fall behind on in their subjects. What would happen if we had smaller classes or intensive remediation for struggling students? Something we could have more of if we could hire new teachers?

Often kids act out because they are having troubles at home. What would happen if we hired social workers who could follow up on our districts troubled children and provide services and or referrals to other agencies?

Often kids act out because they run with the wrong crowd. What would happen if we had more after school programs where kids could be safe and cared for, and where they could get help with their academics?

Often kids act out because they are bored. What would happen if we had more classes they were interested in, what if we brought more art, music and vocational classes back to the schools and made attendance in these classes dependent on behavior?

Heck, I think the money would be better spent if we just gave it away. Why don’t we give it to the students who attend struggling schools and have worked hard and have done the right thing, perhaps the most underserved group in the county? They deserve to have the money spent on them so much more than the children who are constantly in trouble. Let’s divide the money up to the F schools and give two thousand dollar scholarships to a thousand needy, deserving students. This may even prove to be an incentive for the often suspended student.

The sad fact is we don’t know what would happen if we took the suspension center money and instituted any those programs, though I think we could guess if they would be more meaningful or not. The thing is we do know what happened at the suspension centers last year. They weren’t attended and we spent lots of money.

The law of parsimony says the simpler of two competing theories is to be preferred. Which theory do you think is simpler, let’s put discipline back in our schools and give students and teachers the resources they need to be successful or lets create voluntary suspension centers that students need to find their own way to, that cost an exorbitant amount of money and serve only a few children.

I grew up in Jacksonville and I attended the school I teach at now, though when I went there it was safe to walk in the halls, adults were treated with respect and students learned the basic skills they needed for life. I pretty much lived in the same neighborhood I do now and when growing up I could jog my streets safely at night and I if I forgot to lock my car door it didn’t matter. Years ago in Jacksonville reading about a young person committing or being the victim of a crime was an exception not an everyday occurrence, and all of these things have their roots in education.

It makes me sad when I see the county give lip service to special education students sacrificing the future of these children, because they don’t know what to do with them. It hurts me when I see resources stolen from the have not’s to set up magnet programs for the haves. It frustrates me when the district tries to fit all children into one go to college category whether they want to or are prepared to, and it angers me, when I see precious resources allocated to things like suspension centers, especially since Rome is burning down around us.

I have to believe if the people of Jacksonville knew and thought about these things they would care, I also want to believe the school board is capable of doing a good job and they just haven’t shown us (more evidence is that graduation rates and dropout rates are some of the lowest and highest respectively in the state) yet.

If I get out of teaching I think maybe me and a couple buddies will start a suspension center, it sounds like pretty lucrative and easy work, if you can get it, but that’s another story all together.

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