I attended the Parents Advisory Council meeting last evening in the MNPS Board room. Several of the regular attenders were participating in the Strategic Plan retreat. It was interesting. It was frustrating. The bulk of the meeting involved discussing the current standard school attire fact finding mission.
As did the Standard Schools Attire Committee Superintendent Garcia created I'll start by pointing out that the TCA allows every local school board the freedom to make this decision. The only legal parameters are that the clothing be 'simple, appropriate, readily available and inexpensive". Then we must understand that there is a difference between standard school attire and uniforms. The former being much more general and the later fairly rigid. MNPS is looking into the use of the more general, more easily available and less expensive route of standard school attire.
Also mentioned was that the standard school attire policy must have an accommodation for religious or 'strongly held' beliefs regarding dress. The Memphis policy was suggested as a model.
Co-chairs of this Standard Schools Attire Committee include Dr. Monica Dillard, Principal of Overton High School and Dr. Tonya Hutchinson, Principal of Isaac Litton Middle School in my Inglewood neighborhood. Litton has had great success with standard school attire where faculty and staff also conform to the clothing rules. In my visits this comes off very professional and business-like and I, in normal clothing, stand out as obviously a visitor.
There was great testimony from two parents at Litton one of whom was initially against the implementation of the attire. But she whole heartedly embraces it now and even has her other child, attending a different school, dressing the same because it's easier and less expensive. The second mother, of five children, also emphasized the ease and cost effectiveness of this clothing option. A couple of committee members seemed to be concerned about the other clothing the children had available to them in their non-school hours and if the child had fewer options than their siblings. This mom of five was very patient with those questions. Really, folks, that's family business and certainly not the concern of MNPS. There is no right to a full closet of current fashions.
The most frustrating part of the exchange between the PAC members and those testifying was their inability to believe that you could buy a pair of khaki shorts for $5.00 or that Dollar General had clothing that was worth buying. I had to wonder if any of them had ever been to a Dollar General*, K-Mart or second-hand store at all.
Several on this committee also got hung up on whether the local merchants would have time to bring in enough stock before the new school year. I was completely amazed in their lack of understanding of the capitalist system. I believe that if the school board voted tomorrow that standard school attire would be implemented in February (one week from today) their shelves and racks would be brimming with product by then. Some also seemed unable to hear the testimony that many stores already stock these very items all year round. They were told that Memphis gave retailers a four month lead time and there was no problem.
Probably most interesting was the presentation after the presentation. I was never really clear on what their connection to Dr. Garcia's committee was but two parents passed out their presentation called "Standard School Attire: Its Problems and Disadvantages". These parents, Randi Trochtenberg and Mark Schoenfeld, [photos at left] took a very aggressive tone and, as one PAC member correctly pointed out, created a very polarizing environment in that room.
They said their motivation was that presentations thus far had been very pro-standard school attire and that there was 'no empirical evidence' supporting their use and suggested that it was other factors such as 'engaged' learning, teacher methodology and training that also contributed to any decrease in crime and increase in learning. They threw out a lot of statistics, none of which were actually included in their handout. They kept hammering the point--no empirical evidence, no empirical evidence--to the point that one PAC member put up her hand and said "I got it. You two don't want uniforms." So strident was their testimony that I dare say people quit listening.
The City Paper reported it this way:
Parents at the meeting sensed a disconnect with Trochtenberga’s presentation and that of the standard attire committee’s, but Overton High School principal Monica Dillard assured them her committee members were not advocating for or against the change in school attire.A couple of things that all seemed to agree on:
“In defense of the committee — saying it looks like we slanted our information… if somebody had told us we’ve done it and we hate it, we would report that,” Dillard said. “But nobody we had talked with has said that and we’ve not avoided systems that hate it.”
There needs to be parental involvement. Having community support was going to be essential to ensuring that there was compliance.
It's easier to implement in K-8 than in high school. One student, in what almost came off as a veiled threat, said that if they thought it was tough getting middle schoolers not to leave home in compliance and show up at school in non-compliance wait until you force it on high schoolers. He suggested phasing implementation in.
The Nashville School of the Arts representative (I didn't catch her name. Her photo's on the left) said that NAS students and parents would be against this. "My principal would be against this." She asserted that NAS students need to be able to wear leotards and would resent exceptions for athletes. Dr. Hutchinson had testified previously that on game days athletes were allowed to forgo the white collared shirt for their jerseys.
Mr. Shoenfeld's wife got to her husband's mike and wisely pointed out that this debate is worldwide and may never be settled so expect to revisit this topic in the future.
Dr. Dillard pointed out that they had yet to hear from a school system that had implemented standard school attire anything like "We've done it and hate it." Her committee has been presenting their facts to the BOE in installments. At the next BOE meeting they will cover the pros & cons. That presentation, I've no doubt, will adequately answer the assertions of Trochtenberg and Schoenfeld.
*Dollar General side note: I personally believe that Dollar General has been a lifeline to many urban areas. They do provide the basics of life for a reasonable price in places the big boxes fear to tread. AND they back that up with jobs programs and hefty financial investments in those same communities. If these PAC members don't know the value of a Dollar General--they should do themselves a favor and visit. Their budgets will thank them. It'll be a good reality check for them. Often we're buying the very same brands but at a better price. There is a world outside of Target and the mall.