Tuesday night over dinner with friends, I talked about my future with the Kansas City Kansas school district. Though not tenured, I pleasantly announced I felt fairly secure that I would have a job next year, I liked my job well enough, and would be pleased to continue my employment. After all, I had just had a sterling review, was trusted to teach the subject I love best (English) in specialized courses that I was allowed to develop, and I got along pretty well with my co-workers. Next year I would earn tenure.
On Wednesday a special faculty meeting was called. The current superintendent, a nice, comfy woman and her replacement, a stylish and impressive woman who had taught in the district for many years, wanted to speak to us of "pressing and important" matters.
The entire administration of the school was sitting around looking exceedingly glum. The tension in the room was palpable. The thought ran through my head that , due to all the budget cuts in education coming to the state of Kansas, the school was going to close. But we have a strong alumni group, we are growing in enrollment instead of shrinking, and we fill a vital need to our inner-city community.
The gist of the situation was clearly and concisely explained. President Obama wants to make improvements in education. To that end, the Department of Education in DC has made a ton of money available to the school districts who have been identified as the five percent lowest functioning in each state. To accept the money one of four government endorsed plans must be enacted for each school.
Now, think about the state of Kansas. My district is the ONLY truly urban core area of the entire state. Every one of our schools is a Title One school. We are the poorest area in the state. We have the most non-English speaking students. Clearly, the schools in my district make up the lowest 5% in the state. It's a slam dunk.
My beloved historic high school has been chosen to receive the influx of government aid because we have low test scores and a dismal graduation rate. The academic academy in KC district (Sumner High School) escaped the designation, as did the high school at the furthest end of the district. The other two high schools have also been designated as "failing schools."
Because of the weather in DC we still don't have a full understanding of exactly what all this means. We do know that up to two million dollars can be awarded to each high school -- BUT only if they adopt one of the plans the government has pre-approved.
One plan, close the school, has already been rejected by the superintendent. The other three plans all call for either entire resignations by the staff of the school (and the take over of the school by a charter corporation) or resignations of close to 50% of the staff. All the administrators of the school will have to resign no matter what plan is chosen.
The final decision as to whether the district will accept the money rests entirely with the superintendent. How do you say no to $6 million when you have three our of five high schools designated as the lowest 5% in the nation? Especially when the media gets a hold of this information? How do you fire an entire staff of people? How to you fire your principals who have worked hard to make APA and bring scores up from 3% to 56% on the state assessments?
And how do you tell a staff that has worked their hearts out in these urban core schools that they have failed and the federal government wants them gone? Our superintendent did a loving and caring presentation to us. So did her replacement. They stressed over and over how much faith they had in both the school and the staff.
I worked in Kansas City MO in 1989 when the superintendent came in to the auditorium and announced to the faculty and parents that the school I had worked in for 18 years was closing. The speech, in essence, went: F*ck you, we're done and we don't give a sh*t what happens to you." This administration had to present basically the same information but in a gentle, caring, loving way. They did everything in their power to ease the blow and said continually, over and over: we care what happens to you. This really does make a difference in your attitude. It doesn't ease the situation but at least you can understand on a gut level why.
Still the hand-writing is on the wall. Big changes are coming.