Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No Longer Child's Play

Here in The Rose City as our yards become covered with autumn leaves and election signs, we've had a discussion about two former neighborhood schools, Greeneville Elementary and William Buckingham, that has been long on heat and short on light. Both schools were built in the first decade after the end of World War II, testimonials to the dynamism and optimism we felt as a nation. It's been a while, quite a while, since we've felt like that since.

For decades, actually generations, the two schools not only provided education for our children but were anchors in our communities. Across our city as elsewhere, we look to our neighborhood schools as the fingers on the hand look to the thumb. And as times toughened and belts tightened, those who served on the Board of Education ran out of 'luxuries' they could eliminate (when did music and art become luxuries, anyway?) and started closing those physical plants in greatest need of repairs.

The buildings, now empty, are/were a daily reminder of the gap between promise and performance but instead of regarding them as an incentive to reinvent ourselves and our city, we've continued to play pin the tail on the fall guy.

The schools closed because we didn't have the money to keep them operating and still have the resources to successfully prepare our children for tomorrow. We had to make 'one or the other' decisions after decades of 'one and the other' budgets. From closing the buildings to save money to razing the buildings to save even more has sparked an intense and emotional response where a data driven discussion would have served us better.

We very quickly moved beyond an argument about what was, frankly, a box of bricks and some mortar to a less than helpful political kabuki theater where neighbors were forced to choose sides about an issue that is illusory but whose effects of its zero-sum game are very real.

The only people who have been hurt are the very children so many insist they are trying to help. For those who would repurpose Greeneville as a charter school, after I note a charter school is NOT a silver bullet for every shortcoming in American public education, I'd offer my admiration for your steadfastness of purpose and single mindedness of your vision.

But as hopeful as Governor Malloy's administration is that state funding for charter schools can be restarted, the reality is that it will happen, if at all, later rather than sooner. That doesn't mean, to my mind, giving up or giving in.

Children, Greeneville's and every other neighborhoods', would benefit from increased adult engagement in their current schools. Public schools not only educate a public, they help build one. Our Board of Education would be delighted with one hundred adult volunteers but will just as warmly welcome ten. If all you can do is find a half hour once a month to help during Read Aloud Story Hour, or to watch a playground for twenty minutes after lunch to provide a safer recess, you'll be a hometown hero to a grateful teacher and a delighted school.

We've all heard 'it takes a village to raise a child' and who am I to disagree. But a village isn't just sidewalks and crosswalks, businesses and buildings. It's caring and compassionate adults who treat one another with respect and dignity and assure those same values are shared with and by every child, everywhere. Schools are more than bricks, and there's a world of teachers beyond the classroom walls.
-bill kenny

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