Here's the agenda. Here are the FAQ's.
So let's look at the agenda first. It's titled "School Matching Community Meeting." At least their intention was clear - this was not about getting community input about whether the community wants the ASD or is receptive to it. This was about figuring out which charter operators would take over which schools - not whether or not the schools should be taken over.
We know that the ASD thinks that folks just don't know any better, because if folks did understand, the ASD would be welcomed as the liberating heroes that they are. ASD Chief Portfolio Officer (still can't over this ridiculous title) Malika Anderson's public comments have dripped with condescension, so it should be no surprise that the agenda itself patronizes the attendees of the meeting.
The agenda describes the purpose of the meeting as follows
- Know and understand the "why, what, when and who" of the school matching process and how they can get involved
- Have a chance to give feedback on the process
- Personally thank each ASD official present for saving their children (just kidding - I made that one up)
The meeting went off the rails with Item 1, "Food and Fellowship" with thirty minutes allotted starting at 5:30. If I'd known that the meeting started at 6, I probably would have planned to be there at 6. But the published start time was 5:30. Turns out that the Food and Fellowship couldn't start at 5:30 because the food wasn't there. After waiting a while for the food delivery, the ASD folks decided to get the meeting started. They did their presentation, and then (since the pizza had arrived by then), suggested that the group split up to get food and begin Item 3, "Small Group Discussions".
That's when something special happened. Dr. Noel Hutchinson interrupted, and suggested that really the larger group was not interested in breaking into small groups, and really would be most interested in staying in the sanctuary together and asking questions, and hearing the answers all at once instead of in small groups. Dr. Hutchinson ran for the District 1 School Board seat against appointed incumbent Chris Caldwell (who won) and MCS School Board holdover Dr. Freda Williams. The crowd vocally agreed and the ASD consented to staying put, and getting on with the feedback portion of the night.
This is important because this meant that the discussion that unfolded was very different than the one that the ASD planned. The primary discussion in the break-out groups would have been
When you think of education in your school/community,
i. What's one thing we should KEEP doing?
ii. What's one thing we should STOP doing?
iii. What's one thing we should START doing?
Had the planned discussion taken place, a process of engagement may have been able to begin. The discussion would not have been about the ASD, it would have been about what education would/could/should look like in the neighborhood schools that the ASD plans to take over. Instead, the ASD sat through about an hour and a half of speaker after speaker expressing suspicion, anger, distrust, and general unhappiness that their neighborhood schools would be dissolved and re-started from scratch. And that well-loved and successful teachers from the community would be let go. The conversation was about whether the ASD was wanted by the neighborhood and by the parents. It was tense, and I was just observing from the rear.
My feeling was that the ASD was not prepared for the "public comment" portion of the meeting. People just stood up and stayed standing until they were eventually called on. Eventually, a line formed down front, but it was organic and not at the suggestion of the ASD folks. It was a very vocal crowd that encouraged each other. I feel like a meeting where public input would be solicited would have had a better plan in place.
A number of substantive comments from the audience, and several explanations from the ASD were of note:
- Dr. Hutchinson started the group off by asking if the ASD takeover of schools was already a done deal. The answer was that of the 14 schools on the list, 10 would be "absorbed" by the ASD. Even if none of the neighborhoods were interested in the ASD, 10 schools will still be going in.
- Parents may opt their children out of attending the ASD. MCS has provided transportation to alternate MCS schools in some cases, and the ASD has provided transportation in other cases.
- At least one of the schools on the list has gone from a Level 1 school to a Level 5 (the highest) schools. The ASD did not really explain how it selected which schools beyond stressing that all schools being considered are in the bottom 5%, and that it is interested in taking over schools within particular feeder patterns.
- The schools won't be operated as traditional charter schools - they won't open their doors to all students. [I found this statement misleading, since I know that parents in my neighborhood received solicitations over the summer from Cornerstone Prep (formerly Lester Elementary) to enroll at the Lester campus.]
- Parents encouraged the ASD to just use the money they would use to takeover the schools, to give directly to the schools. Parents suggested that if their schools had all of the resources that the ASD has, the schools would be much more successful.
- In the Frayser schools, 30% of teachers at the schools that were taken over applied to work in the same buildings - meaning that 70% did not. Of those who applied, the ASD extended offers to about 75% of those teachers.
- A pastor expressed concern that in two of the schools, the principals have had minimal time to turn things around.
- The Achievement Advisory Council, made up of volunteers from the affected communities, will make its recommendations to the ASD in December, but the ultimate decision rests with the ASD. The ASD said that the Council is not a government committee and is not bound to the open meetings laws, and that the meetings and their deliberations will not be public.
I have to say that I cringed a little bit every time Ms. Anderson (Broad-trained, and Michelle Rhee employee at DCPS) talked about "our babies". I know she wanted the crowd to feel some affinity to her, but it was not comfortable to watch her try to ingratiate herself. The folks I was sitting near in the back of the crowd were particularly put off by what they saw as forced familiarity.
One has to wonder what the "operators" who were present thought about the very vocal pushback. The ones I recognized left before I did.