Tuesday, October 09, 2007

MNPS rezoning

The City Paper reports this morning that a rezoning proposal will be presented to the MNPS BOE this evening at their 5:00 meeting. They also quote George Thompson (17 year BOE member, Chairman of the Board for Great City Schools and up for reelection next August) as saying district officials would be meeting with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, the Metro Council and members from the community in the coming weeks. Hopefully, they'll provide those meeting dates and places at this evening's meeting.

A couple of things to keep in mind as the MNPS BOE debates where to draw those new zone lines this evening:

1. With their renewed emphasis on Small Learning Communities (SLC) there should be little talk of closing small schools just because they're small. Either smaller learning communities work or they don't. I firmly believe that taxpayers want a good return for their money. They don't believe that's happening now. In fact I believe you'll find huge support for neighborhood schools in the community.

We've discovered, after building some behemoth schools, that are now being sectioned into SLC's, that bigger wasn't the best return for our tax money. This is the time to bring back neighborhood schools as much as humanly possible. You want more parental participation? Make sure children attend schools close to home. You want neighborhoods to invest in their local schools, make sure there are local children there. You want support from the community come budget time---make sure that their neighborhood schools are assets to the neighborhood and centers of neighborhood life.

2. I really encourage folks to provide input to the BOE. Likely, you know your neighborhood better than they do and what will make 'sense' to them may make absolutely no sense in real world practice. There is no large district wide map available online, that I or 244-INFO, can find. The closest MNPS comes to detailing all this is individual cluster maps. [Remember these are the maps they're talking about changing.] I know there are council district lines that make absolutely no sense. I suspect such is the same with school zoning lines. Make sure the BOE hears about those.

3. To those that will cringe at the thought of some neighborhood schools not being diverse I will point out that our public school population is becoming less and less diverse all the time. And I'll point you to the success KIPP Academy is having without diversity. Our focus shouldn't be on the color of a child or the numbers in their parent's bank account, but on providing that school population the tools they need for success.

4. Redrawing these lines could really upset a lot of folks. We have four BOE members up for reelection in August. They'd rather not have a lot of unhappy voters who still remember who moved their grand/child to THAT school come election time so it's no surprise to read:

“It’s premature for me to say but I think this thing needs a whole lot more attention than to put it on a greased, fast track, and all of a sudden get ourselves in a crack,” [BOE member George] Thompson said. “I really have some concern as to whether we’re premature and whether we’re a year or two early on dealing with this sensitive issue.”
Yeah, let's move this to the crack year between elections so voters have plenty of time to cool off before you're up for election and have to account for it.

Up for reelection in August:

From Left to Right:
MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden, on the BOE since 8/24/2004 , George Thompson, 4 months on the BOE in 1991 and then continuously since 8/1/1996, Gracie Porter , elected in August of 2006 , Ed Kindall , on the BOE since 7/9/1985.

Here's the BOE member page. Find your's and let them know how you want them to vote: http://mnps.org/Page22.aspx . E-mail them all with this link.


Nashteach said...

I'm a little confused. I remember all the posts about school choice, yet here we've got arguments pushing for a return to "neighborhood schools" and the word "choice" isn't anywhere to be found.

In fact I believe you'll find huge support for neighborhood schools in the community...You want support from the community come budget time---make sure that their neighborhood schools are assets to the neighborhood and centers of neighborhood life

Well, that depends on the comunity. Many of these schools- especially elementary- are centered around neighborhoods. Some have significant support, some have paltry support.

Do we want neighborhood schools because that's the way MNPS draws the lines on a map or do we want families to choose their neighborhood school because they see, firsthand, that it meets a challenge to serve the neighborhood? Without choice as part of this discussion, all it seems to advocate is a dissent against integrating schools. We shouldn't just move back to what came before desegregation, but move forward, which, to me, means more open enrollment.

Again, do we want MNPS to choose the schools our children attend or do we want parents to choose the school based on many factors, closeness to home being only one?

A week ago you were indeed chastising Marsha Warden for not offering enough choice- be it magnets or charters. Treating this "rezoning" debate as a different debate is, IMHO, remiss. The way out of the weaknesses and failures of both segregation and forced desegregation is to put school "assignment" more in the hands of parents.


mrb said...

Good points, Tom. Why doesn't MNPS ask the public in an independent, well-constructed survey how they want their school assignments to be structured? This present solution is for the convenience of the staff. There are more creative and difficult models but they will take work and buy-in from the public.

As long as children and parents have no real choice based on their perceived needs, those that can will leave the system and those that can't will just go where they are told - often with no motivation to succeed.

Our school buildings must be used more efficiently or returned to the public. But constantly reshuffling based on geography won't provide an option that the public wants or will give us well-educated children. Some folks want to stay in their neighborhood and some folks want to know people from all over the city. Some want highly challenging academics and some want highly challenging technical training and some want both. We're large enough and funded well enough to offer choices.

Kay Brooks said...

Because zoning isn't about choice. It's about neighborhood schools and the orderly flow of students from one tier to the next.

We can talk choice after the zones are assigned.

And in light of the statement that unused facilities will be available for "optional programs, or other instructional uses, potentially increasing future choice opportunities" perhaps we'll actually have places to house those choices.

Nashteach said...

orderly flow of students from one tier to the next


Mobility rate of zone high schools 2005-2006:

Antioch 40.9%
Glencliff 49.0%
Hillsboro 35.6%
Hillwood 44.0%
Hunters Lane 42.1%
Maplewood 55.5%
McGavock 40.4%
Overton 38.8%
Pearl-Cohn 46.2%
Stratford 58.0%
Whites Creek 48.6%

Mobility rate of choice schools 2005-06:

East Literature 4.3%
Hume-Fogg 2.4%
Martin Luther King 3.3%
Nashville School
of the Arts 6.8%

I guess its only worth bleeding heart titles like "Suffer not the Little Children" when the geography and rules of the system impact charter school kids' "mobility" and consistency throughout the school year.

There should be a rule that states once a child is enrolled in a school for a school year, the parent may choose to keep the child enrolled all that year.

We can talk choice after the zones are assigned.

I'm sorry; you are so right. They've been so willing to let us define the terms of dicussion thus far.

Nashteach said...

I don't mean to imply rezoning is inappropriate, but that the issues of school boundaries and school choice are not separate issues. It comes down to practices and ownership: who decides what school a child attends- the system or families? The system, as it must, is about to assert that it decides; to wait until after they do that to say "And hey, what about more choice within these schools?" is a mistake. To her credit, Mrs. Warden gets it, as quoted in today's Tennessean:

"It makes sense for us to look at the whole city — it would be foolish not to do so," said school board Chairwoman Marsha Warden. "We want to look at how we can be more effective, how we can provide more neighborhood schools and how we can maximize choice for kids and their families."

As your chart on school poverty above tells us, many families will insist on choice. The question is, does the system want to compete for them?