Monday, February 7, 2011

Talkin' World War III Blues

A proper left-leaning kind of gal, I've always kind of accepted the ideological and philosophical notion that war is bad, unless of course, you're saving the weak from a bunch of big baddies. Love thy neighbor. Kumbaya. Yada. Yada. Fucking Yada.

In the last two months, I have watched myself turn from a compassionate, empathetic, and reasonable person into someone filled with the fire of hate and anger. And I can pretty much honestly say that I have never felt less understood. Hell.... For a minute, I didn't fully understand what was going on myself, but I think today I figured out what's going on.

If you've been following the redistricting drama in DeKalb County, especially if you're a part of it, you can appreciate the tension of not knowing where your child might end up going to school. Or maybe not.

Even if there's no danger of your child being forced to change schools, maybe you can appreciate the concern of having the character of a beloved neighborhood school changed when it is forced to go over capacity while accepting 100+ students from a Title I school whose students are primarily non-native English speakers.

Or maybe you falsely assume that anyone who is concerned with that reality is racist. Or classist.


It feels like the war arrived upon my doorstep this week whether I wanted it or not. This exercise in futility that DeKalb County is putting us through has created factions in my community with those who want to save our school's amazing magnet program against those of us who bought homes in the neighborhood specifically to attend our elementary school as residents of the neighborhood (as opposed to living elsewhere and trying to get into the magnet program).  One of the DCSS' two plans involves surgically cutting eight neighborhood streets and redistricting us to another school, while the other plan would move the magnet program to another school.

And actually, I'm not even that upset about the actual idea of moving to another school, in theory. The other school is actually a great school, too. It's just not the one I planned for my children to attend. Not the one that we bought our home specifically so that our kids could attend. Not the one I have invested my time and energy into over the last four years.

What I am upset about is that there are people in my neighborhood who would choose saving the magnet program (and keeping their kids in it, natch) over protecting the value of homes throughout the neighborhood and keeping our community intact. We have been a part of this school for four years now. School was enough of a struggle for my son and he has built deeply meaningful attachments and relationships with teachers and support staff who helped us get him to the place he needs to be academically and emotionally with regard to school. And now, a select group who feel they are better than the rest of us because their kids are in the magnet program, would just tear apart all of the progress we've made with our son and shove us off to a strange school where we have to rebuild his trust and pray that all the progress we've made isn't undone overnight.

Of course, these same people say they don't want that. They want to save both the magnet and the keep the neighborhood together. Yet, when one of our neighborhood representatives suggested to the school board last week that if it came down to it we would want to prioritize keep the neighborhood intact and losing the magnet program in order to prevent overcrowding, a select few magnet parents went ballistic, accusing people of lying, and all but saying they'd just as soon get rid of us to keep the magnet program.

And in all honesty, they have a point. If you eliminate the magnet program and bring in over 100 low-income students who don't speak the language and whose parents work two jobs to support their families and can't volunteer at the school, and you try to keep the neighborhood intact, you simply have another school that will quickly spiral into mediocrity if not abject failure.

Hell, even if you keep the magnet program, the school is going to be so overcrowded that the benefits resident students received from having the magnet program in their school, i.e. science lab, will simply disappear.

The whole thing sucks.

Yet, if you dare say that in certain circles, you'll be accused of being racist and/or classist. And I don't really have a problem with that because I know that's not true. What I do have a problem with is that many of those who are pulling the race/class card are the same people who have declared they don't want their kids to attend Tucker High School. Now, most of them will say that it's because of Tucker's low test scores as compared to Lakeside's. However, we all know that any kid can get excellent test scores no matter where they go if that kid is a good student. Tucker has the highest score for technology readiness of any school in DeKalb County as well as a brand new beautiful campus. It's much, much closer to our neighborhood. It has an International Baccalaureate program. and it boasts a kickass football team. It's also mostly black. And I have literally heard a neighbor say that while it might be okay to send your sons to Tucker you couldn't send a daughter there.


And I'm racist and classist for facing the reality that our beloved neighborhood school will be forever changed by having to take resources away from our standard and high-achieving students to address the real needs of an incoming population of students who are, no doubt, going to need extra support.

These kids are coming from a school to which our school has donated food items collected by our student council in order to ensure that the students had food to eat over the weekends because the only healthy meal they got each day was at school. How can bringing those kids to our school not have a negative impact?

I am in no way saying those students don't have the same right to a great education as mine or anyone else's kids. Of course they do. Instead of randomly shuffling students around, DCSS needs to make real, substantive changes like those suggested here that actually improve all of our schools and provide a truly equal education for all students, not just those fortunate enough to win a lottery for a magnet program or able to buy or rent a home in a good school district.

I'm just saying that anyone who is eager to bring them to our school and thinks everything will be just as good or better than they are now is not looking at the situation realistically.

Whether we stay at our current school or get redistricted we'll make the best of it, but if we do stay where we are, I'll know that certain people in the neighborhood think their kids are better and more deserving than anyone else's and that the little magnet clique is of more value than actual residents of the neighborhood.

And for what it's worth, I'm really sick of those who don't live on one of the eight streets in Limbo right now telling the rest of us to play nice and that we all have to live together once the dust settles. They're not the ones being attacked. Nothing changes for their kids. They have nothing at play here, other than how the school will be affected by overcrowding once the new students come. And honestly, I guess if the school keeps the magnet and we're gone, the overcrowding won't be so bad for them and they win.

Yeah, I guess it would be easy for them to have their little group sing of unity and get their kumbaya-yas out.

No wonder I feel so alone.


Lori said...

wow. i'm almost speechless. i have gone to many meetings and had many conversations and i have yet to hear a single magnet proponent advocate for the annexation of any part of the current EE community to livsey. rather, i've heard very much the opposite. i've heard "save our ENTIRE community". the ire that sprung forth from monday's meeting was the result of a plan having been agreed to and then deviated from. there was hurt that resulted from a plan being represented and subscribed to and then modified without the knowledge/consent of those who'd signed on to it. we all do the best we know to do in any given moment and no doubt representing at that meeting was a tough, unenviable spot to be in. even so, what happened in that meeting is secondary to the lack of concern shown after the fact to those who felt betrayed. it could've been handled very differently. i have not heard a single person say that magnet kids are more important than neighborhood kids. there is simply not that sentiment at all. i am very saddened by this post.

Dawn said...

I guess I just see things differently, Lori.

Look, I like you and I don't want there to be any hard feelings, but as I said in my post, it was real easy for those of y'all who weren't impacted by the threat of being transferred to another school to think we were overreacting. Wait until you're being made to feel like your child doesn't matter and get back to me, because that is precisely how the magnet people came off to me and many other people.