The Commercial Appeal has an article today that describes the ASD's chilly reception by parents and community leaders at its initial meetings last week regarding the ASD's takeover of 10 more schools next year. 14 possible schools have been named, and 10 will be selected. Here are my comments on last week's announcement. Jane Roberts covered both Thursday meetings, writing that "[t]he crowds last week were angry that decisions had been made about their schools, where in some cases, the children are making progress, or the programs they offer are rare."
Malika Anderson (the Chief Portfolio Officer- whatever the heck that is - for the ASD) minimized the impact of the parents' comments on the school selection process by stating that "the tone and anger was the same" as in meetings earlier in the week with the faculty and staff. But it was her next comment that really got me: "It is really important for people to hear that they don't get just one chance to ask us questions, that we are here to listen and allow them to vent and to process the change that is happening. When they are ready to engage in productive problem-solving that is going to support the kids in these schools, we're going to be ready, ready to hold their hand." (my emphasis added)
I can only think that Ms. Anderson intended to be conciliatory. It can't be comfortable to sit at the front of the room where the assembled crowd is "hot" - unhappy with the decisions you are making, seeking answers to some hard questions, and hoping to change your mind.
But that kind of comment is not conciliatory. First, the tone. You use language like "when you are ready to talk about this" to a child. Or to a soon-to-be ex-spouse. Not to parents concerned about their schools invited to an event to talk about their children's education. The tone is condescending. Second, the implication. The substance of the statement implies that parents are not already engaging in "productive problem-solving" and certainly not ready to "engage in productive problem-solving that is going to support the kids in these schools". Apparently, the ASD's belief is that the efforts taken so far in these schools is simply not "productive problem-solving" and does not "support the kids in these schools." We all know that we're talking about bottom 5% schools that are eligible for the ASD - but several of these schools are making important strides - strides that should make us hopeful about MCS's and the individual schools' ability to lift the schools out of the bottom 5% without the state's "assistance."
Third, the statement itself. The ASD makes clear that it is not interested in using parent and community input to inform their decisions about which schools will be absorbed by the ASD, or about the state's adoption of the ASD as a policy. Ms. Anderson states that "we are here to listen and allow them to vent and to process the change that is happening." Translation: "Oh, the change is happening. Feel free to vent, and we know change is hard. But the ASD is SO happening. We'll patiently wait for you to come around to our way of thinking, but we won't really be using your comments to inform our decisions. We know best."
These meetings occurred on Thursday night. On Saturday, Diane Ravitch published complaints that the local media had not covered the meetings and the public reaction at the meetings. I'm glad to see the article today, and actually, I'd rather see the article on a Monday than buried on Saturday.
Tonight is the next "batch" of meetings. Memphis is poor - especially the neighborhoods surrounding low-performing schools. Many folks in these neighborhoods lack transportation. So I see the logic in the ASD's decision to go to several locations in a variety of neighborhoods. I see less logic in making all of these meetings at the same time - it leaves the ASD open to criticism that it is attempting to "divide and conquer" any dissent.
Because the ASD is working on such a condensed timeline, they have not left themselves a lot of time for their "community engagement" tour - but this is of the ASD's own doing.
But since this "engagement" is really about "listening" to "venting", and not really about collecting input to inform government decisions, maybe this is the right approach.
Please attend the next meetings:
5:30-7:30 p.m. Hamilton Community Center, 1363 E. Person
5:30-7:30 p.m. Salem Gilfield Baptist Church, 3176 Kimball Ave.
5:30-7:30 p.m. St. Paul Neighborhood Center, 2124 E. Holmes
5:30-8:30 p.m. Operator-Community Night, Fogelman Center, University of Memphis.
* The ASD will provide free transportation to and from Tuesday’s meeting. Riders will be picked up at 5 p.m. at: Frayser Achievement Elementary, Cypress Middle, Shannon Elementary, Corry Middle, Graves Elementary and Hanley Elementary.