Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On Sharing: a peaceful meditation on the capacity equity challenges of the Waltham Elementary Schools

Ah, but before we begin out peaceful meditation, allow me to gently castigate, for just a moment, anyone who has ever complained about stuff in our Fair City and then went to the polls and reelected EVERY incumbent running to EVERY position. If you don't like stuff, the way to get it to change is to vote for NEW people, not to reelect the SAME people.  Also, for anyone reading who didn't vote (which is two thirds of Walthamians): you must now shut up your piehole because you have no right to complain about anything ever.  The only 'new' person who we have on City Council is Carlos Vidal (whom I supported wholeheartedly in his campaign) and the only reason Carlos had an 'open' at-large seat for which to run is that Tom Stanley gave up his seat to run for mayor.  Wake up, Waltham.

Back to the matter at hand: the elementary schools in Waltham have had a growing disparity in enrollment.  Humor me, for a moment, as I illustrate with a simplified model: we have six boxes with Legos in them.  Two of the boxes have so many Legos (more than 500 pieces!) that we can't fit the lids on the boxes.  One of the boxes has one-third fewer Lego bricks than the two that are overflowing.  The other two boxes have some room in them, although not as much room as the two-thirds full box.  How do we get to where we can put the lids on the overflowing boxes?  Anyone?

We have looked at adding a smaller, kind of temporary, box outside next to the overflowing Lego box.  That didn't work for many reasons.  We have looked at some empty boxes that are around the city and discovered that one was in pretty bad shape and was allowed to fall further into disrepair because no one took care of it.  We found that another box is now being used for the Lego People to live in.  We discovered that it costs a lot of money to build a brand new Lego box and that we will likely be spending a lot of money for a very big Lego box for the big kids.

After three years and lots of very costly studies and lots meetings and NIMBYism and accusations of racism and hand-wringing, all of which has led to inaction, we finally get a Superintendent who is dedicated to addressing the issue.  In fact, he has instilled ACCOUNTABILITY and TIMELINES, which are shocking things indeed to the City that likes to kick an issue down the road until it becomes a crisis.

[A brief aside: some stalwart volunteers and friends have a litmus test for bringing volunteers onto their Board.  The only people whom they will consider are those who "Get shit done."  I am so very thankful that we have a GSD Superintendent as a replacement for the "Needs more Data and Further Review" Superintendent.]

There are four proposals to address the number of Legos in the Lego boxes and the angst and hyperbole is truly mind-numbing.  Some of the parent comments that I've read on Twitter and Facebook make me want to bang my head against the wall.  To whit: the school with the most students in it is the Fitzgerald School.  So, all of the plans take some students out of the school, whether by grade or by changing the district lines.  And yet: these ideas are an affront to the integrity of the NEIGHBORHOOD!  Some lament if can we still be a neighborhood if our kids are going to different schools for different grades.  So, does that mean that my neighbor, whose kids go to private school, and my other neighbor, whose kids go to St. Jude's, aren't actually my neighbors?  Am I not part of the Fitzgerald neighborhood now that I have a kid in middle school?  What about my friends with kids in high school?  Do they even count?

When I was a wee lass in the Philadelphia School District in the 1970's, there was a big Thing going on in big cities throughout the country.  It was called 'desegregation' and was achieved by busing.  My family lived in the middle class, largely white, largely Jewish area in the Northeast of the city (known as, I am not kidding, the Great Northeast.)  Kids were bused from their homes in North Philly to our elementary schools: these kids were on buses at 5 in the morning and got home at 5 at night, all for race equality and a more equal distribution of resources.

Nothing even close to what I experienced as a third and fourth grader in Philadelphia is happening here in Waltham, and everyone needs to calm down.  In our very diverse city, half of our kids are going to be in Middle School together and the other half will join them in High School.  For those of us with kids who play sports or who go to the Y or the Boys and Girls Club for after school programs or who go to camp in the summer, our kids already have friends from the other Waltham neighborhoods: kids who live in apartments, kids whose parents speak another language, kids who were born in another country, kids who live with one parent, kids whose families rely on public transportation, etc.  Economically diverse; diversity in physical ability; diversity in language; diverse families of origin; racially diverse; diverse religious beliefs; diverse political ideas.  This is what I love about Waltham and why we moved here: I didn't want my kids to go to school exclusively with kids who looked and sounded just like they do.

Neighborhoods are geographic and they're made by people doing neighborly things.  If you're involved in your kid's school, then you will be involved if and when they go to a different school.

I implore you all, when you go to the community meetings and when you give feedback to School Committee members, to keep this in mind.  Don't denigrate the betterment of education in Waltham by getting stuck on the millions of tiny issues: the tiny issues will work themselves out.  They always do.  Keep in mind the improvement to education for all of the kids in the district.  The best prepared students don't benefit from going to a school with more than 530 kids; likewise, a school meant to hold 500 kids that has less than 400 can't get the resources that it needs.

It's time to stop the hand-wringing and angsting and move forward.  #OneWaltham