Friday, November 05, 2010

Changing your local school

I recently came across a book called How to Walk to School, which tells the story of a turnaround project in a Chicago public school. What's different about this story is that the turnaround was the fruit of a collaboration between a new principal and the middle-class parents who lived nearby. Instead of moving to the suburbs or sending their kids to private schools, these parents worked with the principal to turn the local school (Nettelhorst) into the kind of place they'd send their kids to. This wasn't just a matter of sprucing the place up and fundraising for extras (though this is part of it). They also looked at the quality of instruction and worked on ways to improve teaching within the school.

I know many readers of Gifted Exchange are veteran educational activists... because you've had to be. Schools, for a variety of reasons, generally have to serve the norm. Often they don't do that! But even many good schools simply can't deal well with a child who really bucks the norm. You have had to carve out exceptions to policies, make new policies, lobby for new classes, extra services and so forth.

Sometimes it doesn't work. And so you wind up homeschooling, or moving to a different community, or paying tuition at a private school that will work with you. But I'd love to hear some stories from readers who have successfully worked with teachers and principals to change their local school to better serve both your own children, and other gifted children who will come along in the future.


Karen Fox said...

I would also love to read your posts. I am a mother in a rural school district in the early stages of this process and would love to hear how it has been done. One thing I have learned is that the old "funding" problem is another way of saying "we won't be bothered by this until it hits us where it hurts." This lesson was learned on he soccer field.
None of our local schools had soccer programs. Kids from every school had requested a program and were told that there were no funds for a soccer program. Finally, one school put in a parent funded, volunteer staffed program . Kids from all over changed schools to participate. Each child enrolled represented approximately $5000 in state funds. A soccer program only cost around $7000. Suddenly, every school had enough money to fund a soccer program.
The difference was that the parents let the school board know exactly where and why they were going, so the $$ could speak their message loud and clear.
Plenty of parents have left our schools due to lack of educational options, but the message of 'why' got lost in all the district bureaucracy. Our superintendent even said to me, "Well, if there are parents who are dissatisfied, have them come talk to us." With that in mind, we are drawing up a gifted profit and loss statement for our board.
I would gladly accept any ideas, tips, links or bonbons you have to share.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I have relayed your request for stories on my blog:

Anonymous said...

Karen Foss said, "A soccer program only cost around $7000. Suddenly, every school had enough money to fund a soccer program. "

So very much not a shocker that the school finds a way to support soccer (a sport available to all children through any number of outside-school rec, travel, and competitive leagues) but never has the money for, you know, EDUCATING KIDS.

lgm said...

My child was able to advocate for himself in the primary grades before the full inclusion, whole class teaching equality movement reached our area. It was common to go to another classroom and/or grade for LA at the instructional level, and to give kinder and first graders access to independent study in math. Enrichment was part of school policy.

The political viewpoint here now in my area of upstate NY is that offering enrichment, an advanced course, select music groups, or an extracurricular or interscholastic sports is equivalent to stealing money from a special education, remedial, or at risk child's program. Academic courses that are electives have been eliminated. Those students that formerly would have taken IB, AP, Foreign Language IV, preCalc, etc are now told to dual enroll at their own expense. Parents of middle schoolers who planned to play modified sports (interscholastic) were told to go form their own community or travel teams. They did band together and are fundraising...they have bought several of their school sports back however they are being cast as hardworking elitists in a district that is only 15% Free/Red.

The idea of CC sounds great, until one sees the course offerings and figures out how much tution is going to be and realizes that if your child's choices are undersubscribed, the courses won't be offered on the high school campus. Far easier timewise and less costly to district hop to a more welcoming district that has the courses your child needs.

Frankly, when the BOE isn't supportive of the academic needs of ALL students, the minority (in #s) parents are spitting in the wind with their advocation. I'd enourage everyone to read up on the Bay Area and Portland Ore public schools as they've gone the same way politically that mine has. A child only has 4 years of high takes longer than that to effect political change when you are in the minority and are being cast as an elitist theif.