Saturday, February 01, 2014

Memories are made of this . . .

Paseo High School in 1989
Once upon a time I envisioned myself as Don Quixote and I joined with a group of fine folks to tilt at windmills.  Like Don Q my efforts were in vain but that is not to be said that they did not bear fruit.

I taught for 22 years in the Kansas City School district -- first at the Southeast Complex and after seven years was transferred to Paseo High School.  I worked there from 1976 until I resigned from the district (if you have tilted at them publicly for over a year it is in you best interest to resign your position with them) in 1990 -- the year every high school in Kansas City became a magnet school.

Today the district has abandoned that magnet plan -- just as we predicted in 1990.  And today they have put on the market or sold many of their fine historic schools built from 1890 to 1950 -- just as we predicted they would be forced to do because they could not maintain the infrastructure they were building back in the 1980's and '90's. 

This story of how I came to walk away from teaching has been told many times and in many other forms and I'm certainly not going to bore you with a repetition today.  You can learn all about it here if you want to wade through horrible accounts of mismanagement and hypocrisy:

History of Paseo High School
Why Did Kansas City public schools fail?
The Paseo Alumni Association

I vowed I'd never go back to teaching but then in 2006, when Hubby got so sick and my current employer was so awful, life threw me a curve and offered me a slot teaching special education in the Kansas City Kansas public schools.  I was always destined to be an urban core high school teacher -- I never wanted to do anything else.  So I grabbed the gold ring and was profoundly grateful to Kansas City Kansas for showing me that a decent urban core school system could find successes without doing harm to their parents, their children, and their employees.

When Hubby's physical condition worsened in 2010 and 2011, I realized it was my time for actual retirement.  Thanks to the last years spent back in eduction and a rigorous savings program, we could just about afford it.

Last spring I was notified by email that the alumni of the school I had fought so hard to save was putting together a program to remember the efforts made by their members, my students, and our lawyer.  Did I want to come? 

I actually had to think whether or not I did want to relive those times -- they weren't heartbreaking to me but they had been to some of the participants.  My major reaction to that time was still anger:  that a district could be so callous to those they were supposed to educate, that a court system could still enforce segregated education in the name of desegregation, that the power structure of my city only wanted to realize profits from their failing school district rather than actually improve it.  Still, I looked at the guest list and said, yes, I'd come.  Would I speak?  I replied that I'd said everything I had to say back in 1990.

Plans were made.  Old friends, long unseen and unheard of, were contacted.  Telephone calls were made.  A pre-meeting was held.  Visuals were made.  Media was contacted.  Suddenly a small luncheon gathering of Paseo High School alumni was turning into a huge deal, all put together by the alumni association.  Those of us being honored just kind of cruised along in amazement at what a big deal all this was becoming. 

On Monday of this past week, January 27, the Paseo Alumni gathered at a posh Plaza restaurant.  There were tables and tables of memorabilia from our time in 1990.  The local TV station sent out a camera man to interview the participants who had come to reminisce.  Some of my favorite students were there to speak of those days.  The lawyers who represented my students spoke.  The alumni who had worked so hard to save the building spoke.  And yes, even I got up and gave a little talk. 

Monday afternoon was time of healing for me.  It was also a time of reconnecting.  My anger has eased just a bit because I am so very clearly aware of the good things that come from those days -- my kids, now 40 year old successful adults -- told me about how our efforts taught them lessons that could never have been learned in a classroom.  They reminded me that we may have lost a building but we always knew we had stood up for what was good, true, honest, and right. 

If you would like to see the speechifying you can tune in here (the kids come in about half way through and they are worth the listen):

Video from Saving Paseo luncheon

Finally, here are some pictures of the day:


MGW & Calvin Well, leader of the Paseo 18
Materials gathered to commemorate our achievements

Just one of the tables of memorabilia
Suzette Naylor, comptroller KC Art Institute, Calvin Well, DeVry Institute, Terri Barr, aid to Senator Claire McCaskill, Donald Frazier, vice-principal in the St. Louis area
Calvin Wells

John Kurtz, lawyer, introducing Donal Frazier, educator

Suzette Naylor, last valedictorian of the original Paseo High School with John Kurtz, lawyer for the Paseo 18     

Claudio Molteni, lawyer -- John Kurtz, lead lawyer -- Suzette Naylor, Paseo 18 -- Calvin Well, Paseo 18 -- Hubby, supporter Paseo 18 -- Me -- Terri Barr, paralegal for the Paseo 18 -- Donald Frazier, Paseo 18
Sharon McCone, leader for the Alumni, John Kurtz, lawyer for the Paseo 18, and me -- teacher of the Paseo 18


Margaret said...

I am impressed by your accomplishments and so proud of the person you are, fighting for your students and what is right. Still, I know it took a huge toll on you; I'm glad you decided to go to the ceremonies!

Donna said...

I loved hearing you speaking so passionately about something you care about.